Kevin Carson On Authority: A Reply
Authority is a sort of personal trust that we have for someone, say, our doctor. If we say he is a good doctor then we express that he has authority with us. Hobbes realised that the state was based on such authority. Locke later called it tacit consent and David Hume said that it was based on opinion. But the Beatles had authority with many teenagers in the 1960s. Authority is like that. It is what we think is good about people or institutions, it mainly consists in what we value highly.
An anarchist is an individual who rejects the state’s authority within his own value system, but that hardly alters the fact that others are not with him there, so the anarchist can still see that the state is upheld by the authority it has with many others; maybe most others. So the state has power over him owing to the support for the state from other people, even though the lone anarchist has contempt for the state.
Locke made a serious error on the state, that Nozick, and also many libertarians, either made too or they might have followed Nozick, or other followers of Nozick or Locke, but it is one that Hobbes never made, and one that Hume rightly criticised as naïve, and that Burke and Bentham also rejected, maybe owing to Hume’s influence but that current common sense, greatly influenced in the UK/USA by Locke, tends to accept today. The serious mistake is that the state serves the public rather than governs them. It is the reason we call the state bureaucracy the “civil service”.
Authority is not over us but rather it flows from us. But the state does rule chiefly by authority rather than by force, as Nozick seemed to imagine. A massive part of Nozick’s error here is in his thinking that a defence agency in an anarcho-liberal society could be a candidate state. It is the naïve idea that the state even could be where it is today by mere brute force. Even in any gangster mob, we might, if we think a bit about it, get to realise that the best fighter in it rarely, if ever, leads it. The leader of the mob needs to have authority with the mob members he leads in order to lead it. Brute force is no good for that end but with authority from the mob then it might even be led by a cripple.
Kevin Carson has no authority with me, to say the very least. I feel only contempt for his contributions. But I bear him no ill will. Like St Augustine, we need to blame the sin rather than the sinner. Liberalism has no enemies. I would never wish to be unjust with him, or indeed, with anyone else. Carson merely seems to be an utterly confused Romantic reacting to the Enlightenment paradigm to me, and as well as the idea that the public are basically irrational he also pushes the rather stupid idea of a class divided society too. I tend to react to that as an ex-smoker who has successfully given up smoking.
That almost archetypical idea or meme of social or economic class is used in the midst of complete intellectual rubbish in the UK within every hour of any day on the mass media, where the idea of class is held as an obsession. It seems to satisfy many people in the UK much as an addictive drug might. It is certainly a fond national myth. It is not good sociology, but then one wonders if there is even any good sociology. I think there have been some in the past, but not very much. There might well be some good sociology today too, but I do not know of any. However, class theory is even worse economics, for few of the supposed classes are usually also held to be economic interest groups. Karl Marx rightly said that we can classify people as we wish but he thought, or went on to say, that people objectively, or by their behaviour, form classes that are real. They may sometimes do so, but there were no very large interest groups relating to what the economists called the factors of production, as Marx held there once was. Nor was there any later development onwards from it, where the landed interest merged with the interests of the savers or of the capitalists/investors/entrepreneurs, in a new united bourgeoisie to face the rest of the people who had dropped into an enlarge ever impoverished proletariat, as Marx claimed there objectively was in his own day. It was fine to classify the bourgeoisie and the proletariat as two big classes in mere logic, or in Marx’s own mind, or even in his books, but there was clearly no massive class conflict between them. History is utterly devoid of class struggle in the way he claimed it was. Nor was that fact ever hard to see but Marx, like his Romantic epigones in the history departments of the colleges, was too busy reading and writing fresh falsehoods ever to bother to check up on the facts of the matter.
Authority is never going to vanish, as I said in Free Life back in 1980. We can get rid of the state but not ever polycentric or anarchic authority. But authority is complex and it fluctuates.
Kevin Carson says the state is not legitimate. This looks oxymoronic, rather like Proudhon saying: “property is theft”. As Hobbes saw, legitimacy is positive in that only the state can make it but, presumably, Carson means the state should, ideally, not have any authority.
Anyway, authority is not over us, that is power. It appears that Carson is saying that he has argued against state power in the past. But, if so, then, clearly, the state does have positive legitimate power over me, but no authority with me. The state has the political power that flows from the support of the wider public; owing to the authority it has with most, if not quite all, of them. The state has legitimate authority over Carson too. But then he tends to conflate authority and power.
It is true that today that the state does not own me today, but it might soon gaol me, so then it would soon effectively own me. I am not sure I would make a useful slave for the state. But the state has power over me whilst I own myself, anyway.
Carson always seems to write a bunch of backward falsehoods. This stint that I criticise here seems to be typical of his output. It may as bad as it seems to me that it is because he hates criticism and debate thus he rarely sees the need to correct it. I have read his stupid excuses as to why he will not debate with me but, nevertheless, his bloated authority with fools needs to be checked; whether he likes debate or not. If he hates criticism then he should not attempt to communicate. He is in good company in hating criticism, as Isaac Newton also hated it, and daft David Hume rather foolishly set out to ape Newton in adopting that rather dysfunctional outlook. He, like Newton, refused to reply to his critics, leaving it to Joseph Priestley to knock the Scottish Common sense School of Reid, Beattie and Oswald into a cocked hat.
The backward Greens tell us, as they have read a little bit of science, that we have entropy. Julian Simon rightly says the meme of entropy is relatively new science but it nevertheless seems to be the case. However, it hardly aids the daft Green outlook very much but they imagine that it does just as they imagine they are basically right on other things. Entropy does mean we do always have less than perfect efficiency though. Some inefficiency is intrinsic to any project at all. We get this with information flow too, as with everything else.
We have to use our imagination to get to act in the world. Whether we can have a purely imaginary world is not clear, though it would seem not, but anyway we cannot have risk free assumptions about what there is. To think is to assume and all assumptions risk error.
Fortune 500 has no power but the late USSR’s Gosplan did. Fortune 500 seeks to serve, Gosplan to rule. Fortune depends on free customers to survive but Gosplan had access to taxation. Fortune seeks to serve but Gosplan set out to rule the public.
Carson imagines that the Gosplan had positive consequences. He fails to say what they are.
Nothing leads to irrationality in fact, but our Romantic, Kevin Carson, feels it is the normal state of the human mind. However, not even backward Carson is truly irrational.
We all find many different arguments, or ideas/memes, as cogent or forceful but Carson seems to imagine that there are some people, maybe most people, who do not. But if an argument that seems cogent to us seems insipid to others then that is usually because they find other ideas yet more forceful just now, either because they have yet to mentally digest your argument, to get it from the head to the heart, or from the syntax to the semantics [as John Searle might say], or because the ideas that leads them to reject it are better than your own, so that it is you who needs to learn from them rather than them from you. What we never get, well, hardly ever, is others completely ignoring what we say to them. They can choose not to reply but never quite choose to close their ears or to misunderstand at will, as Ray Percival explains in The Myth of the Closed Mind (2012). But whether it goes to their gut, or whether they take it to heart, depends on the rival ideas they already have, as well as how the world seems to be to them on their current thought on it today.
Our feelings of authority towards others will be always felt as good ipso facto as it is just thinking that the doctor, or who it is that we feel deserves authority, knows his stuff, or whatever. Bad feelings towards the doctor will be a lack of authority that he has with us and, presumably, we will soon be seeking another doctor if ever that is the case.
Yes, the police usually mean trouble, as Kevin Carson rightly says. Most of us are pleased to dodge them. We know the police usually mean trouble to almost anyone that they deal with. So we do not want them to ever deal with us, as we realise it almost bounds to mean some trouble for us.
Carson wants to say that because the police are not welcome to pick on us, or we do not like to be sacked from a firm that we might work at, as both tends to make most of us feel bad, or troubled, then authority is evil. He seems to be merely confused. We ought not feel fear, he says but fear is useful for survival. We should not feel powerless, he says, but power is something we should dissolve anyway in the political sense. In the energy sense all wanted it, as Matthew Boulton rightly said they did in the eighteenth century and most of us still want, at least some, today. We should never feel as if we might have done something wrong, we are told by Kevin Carson. But what if we have done something wrong?
I do not think that the anarcho-liberal, or post state, society will ever lack authority. It will lack the state power and thus political power, ipso facto. What the police do today will most likely be way more diffuse by being spread amongst many other new occupations. Monopoly state policing of the streets today will not likely have any exact analogue but someone more like today’s UK traffic wardens, with way less powers, if any actual powers at all, will be nearer to what we [well, they!] will most likely have on the roads or on the highway in cars.
The idea of saying that society is sick does not look apt to me. It looks like a category mistake, the common collectivist idea that society is an agent rather than mere social interaction. Indeed, it was the very mistake that Mrs Thatcher attempted to correct when she said there was no such thing as society, a statement repeated still at least once a month if not once a week by the BBC. Society cannot be blamed for moral owe, as the TV presenter assumed for as Mrs Thatcher replied, only persons can be immoral, Society reified as a thing can hardly make be factual, or true, as society is no more a thing than it is a person. It is social interaction between people than to blame it is yet another example of Ryle’s categorical mistakes.
Carson then seems to say that it is not good to like the idea of the cops getting tough with others. It seems harmless enough to me, though we might agree that it is vicarious sadism. Do we not get the same sort of buss from many popular films [or movies, as they seem to say in the USA]? But Carson may actually have a point here in that vicarious sadism may well be a foolish indulgence, but surely the thought is distinct from the deed, such that watching, say, a Sylvester Stallone movie on TV is hardly on par with actually going out to attack anyone in the street. Ditto with the police videos that seem to also appear on TV. St Paul is surely wrongheaded in his daft idea that the thought is a sin just as much as the deed is. Mere thought cannot be illiberal, anyway, even if it is a sin in the Christian creed. But it might be a bad habit, nevertheless. I recall promising myself to read less fiction in the 1970s when I reflected on how often I had thought, and even almost said out loud “kill him” whilst reading Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (1847). I have not read much fiction since.
Carson seems to be utterly unrealistic in thinking that people who enjoy vicarious sadism must have had such and such a socialisation, or childhood. Things are more superficial than his crass Romantic outlook has it. There is way more in his books than there is in the outside world.
There is no equality outside of arithmetic, there never was and only a blockhead would ever want it. Carson writes like a backward ignoramus.