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[P]
On Power And Authority

By Arkady in Culture
Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 05:34:02 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)
Culture

Here I want to discuss two terms which are often used interchangeably in American social discourse (a conflation of meaning which is utterly unsurprising, but more on that later): Power and Authority. Though these words once had vastly different meanings, they are regularly used as synonyms in American media and sociopolitical discussion.


Power

This is the easy one: Power is simply the ability to make another person (or group of people) do as you wish them to, either through force, threat or other overt forms of coercion or through more subtle means, such as by convincing them that they wish to do so.

Examples of Power being exercised publicly in the world today are so easy to find as to make it almost a pointless exercise: the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan, Microsoft's campaign to eliminate MP3 and other "uncontrollable" formats by blocking support in their operating systems, the entertainment industry's ability to force a retroactive extension of copyright and the passing of the DMCA on a table greased with industry money, Pacific Gas & Electricity's ability to hold almost the entire state of California hostage to their profit margin. I could probably go on listing examples infinitely, as new ones crop up faster than I can type.

The more subtle exertions of Power are much more difficult to list, naturally, as by definition they are much more difficult to detect and define. A recent well known example (to a web-based readership), however, would be Microsoft's failed attempt to force the DoJ to drop their suit by simulating a ground swell of popular support for Microsoft (these sorts of things are much easier to identify when they fail). Microsoft, by spending huge amounts of money, attempted to make it seem as though there were a popular upsurge of outrage against the DoJ case by arranging to have a Public Relations firm send carefully designed letters to newspapers and politicians and found several political groups which seemed to be an outgrowth of popular demand until it was realized that their addresses were the offices of Microsoft's P.R. company. This tactic is so widely practiced now that it's even got its own name, "astroturf", and should be quite familiar to any of you who have followed the legal shenanigans around the tobacco industry.

Just as there are whole industries dedicated to servicing the needs of overt power (police and military forces, "defense" contractors, "security" equipment and staffing), there are whole industries which service the needs of covert power (advertising, lobbying, "public relations").

Authority

The second term is much more difficult to define. This is natural, of course, since it's the one whose meaning has largely been effaced by its conflation with Power. Modern dictionaries are little help, except in that they list the historical root of the word: the Latin "auctoro", defined by the Oxford Latin Dictionary as to bind or obligate, a telling linkage to its rather older relationship to contracts. This is also unsurprising, as dictionaries track common usage and it's common usage which has started to make these words synonymous.

A more fruitful source, though, is another word which shares this root but has retained its independent meaning; in this case I am thinking of "authorize". "Authority" once meant "having been authorized", though now (to quote the primary definition given by dictionary.com) it is said to mean "The power to enact laws, exact obedience, command, determine, or judge". That's a rather significant drift in usage, though not in practical terms as historically it was a person in Power who would authorize another. The change is only really meaningful in the context of a State which claims to derive its Authority from the will of the people residing therein.

It's certainly easy to see why someone with Power derived from other sources than popular authorization (such as wealth, police or military affiliation, or control of some important resource) would want to conflate these two terms: it grants an air of legitimacy to their position to call their actions exercises in Authority rather than Power.

Legitimacy

Power legitimizes itself; legitimate Power is simply Power sufficient to achieve the aims of its controller. There's not a lot to talk about here.

The issue of legitimacy for Authority, however, is much more complex and hence much more interesting.

In modern American usage, Authority derives legitimacy only from tradition (age) or from another, greater, Authority. The state and federal governments are commonly considered to hold legitimate Authority because they have been so considered for over 200 years and they are commonly considered to be able to delegate legitimate Authority to people and other organizations.

This is clearly inconsistent with both itself and reason. To allow an Authority to delegate its tasks by creating other Authorities may be reasonable (though, of course, that's a decision to be made by those who grant it its Authority), but to say that Authority may derive its legitimacy from tradition is certainly not.

First, it is either inconsistent or leads to an intractable problem. If Authority may be legitimized merely by the age of an institution, then naturally the American colonists were not entitled to create a new State, as this would be illegitimate rebellion against a legitimate Authority (the British State, which had at that time existed for several hundred years). Thus, the modern American State would be illegitimate and its claim to legitimacy through its age would be void. Additionally, if one were to argue that, though the American State was illegitimate at its inception, its current age serves to legitimize it a new problem arises: at exactly what age can you then say the state became legitimate? This is the same problem faced in the decision at what age a fetus or infant should be considered human. This question has not been demonstrated to have a definitive answer, and we have no reason to suspect that the analogous question of a State's legitimacy would not prove to be equally intractable.

More importantly, though, by accepting age as a legitimizing factor for Authority you deny anyone born or living within its claimed boundaries any right to participate in its creation or control. A State which exists and acts without the consent and endorsement of the people exists and acts solely on Power, not Authority. How could it, when the people do not consent to its existence or endorse its actions? To say that an Authority, by virtue of its age (which is, essentially, to say by its existence), is legitimate is also to say that any Authority which exists is legitimate. This, once again, conflates Authority with Power, for nothing more than Power is needed to establish an institution and see to its continuance.

Consent

The act of consent, or granting authorization, to legitimize an Authority must have three attributes. It must be a) active, b) free and c) informed; without all three of these, it cannot reasonably be considered legitimizing. To take these in sequence:

a) active consent

There is an example here which is probably familiar to most of you. There's a Monty Python sketch in which a group of British soldiers must make a run for it to get back behind their own lines, but they only have enough supplies to take all of them but one. The officer suggests, because one of them has no arms, that they decide who shall escape by a show of hands. There's a similar example in Red Dwarf where, in trying to convince Kryten that three skeletons are actually dead, one of them suggests that everyone who's alive should raise their hands. To allow consent to be passive (i.e. by claiming that merely by not leaving the area where a person was born and lives that person is giving consent to ruled by whomever claims Authority over that area) is essentially the same as these examples; it is to grant automatic legitimacy to any claim to Authority. This is clearly unreasonable, and is certainly not in line with common practice (i.e. you would consider it unreasonable were I to claim that you were obligated to a contract merely by stating that it exists and that you must move out of your house or be bound by it).

b) free consent

Coerced consent, or an act of consent made under threat or duress, also cannot reasonably considered legitimizing. This would amount to stating that any claim to Authority is legitimate, provided that it were backed up with sufficient Power. To do so would, again, not be in line with common practice either (i.e. it would not be reasonable to consider your giving me your wallet, because I threatened to shoot you if you didn't, to be a binding transaction).

c) informed consent

This one should be the most obvious. Consent given to one thing cannot, through misdirection or misinformation, be reasonably considered legitimizing. This is also in line with common practice (i.e. were I to convince you to sign a document by misrepresenting its contents, then it would not be reasonable for you to be bound by it).

These three are really more in the way of expounding on the definition of consent than in being qualifiers of it, since all three merely illustrate how we use the term and all three restrictions are completely consistent with the common practice of consent.

Conclusions

Here are a few conclusions which can be drawn from this consideration of these terms:

1) The American State is not a legitimate Authority, but rather merely enforces the will of its rulers by its Power. This is true because it has never, even at its creation, gained the consent and endorsement of the people residing within the borders it claims. Though it may be possible that it would receive a majority vote in its favor (though whether a majority would even turn out for such a vote is doubtful), this has never even been attempted. At its inception, it did not even attempt to poll the vast majority of those living within its borders.

2) Rusty's Authority over Kuro5hin is legitimate, on the other hand, as at its inception he had the express support of all of its users, and all new users have joined with full knowledge of how the system is operated (i.e. the editorial policies are public and in an easily accessible location). In fact, when he tried to step down, a significant number of the comments demanded that he stay in his current position.

I think it's fair to say of these conclusions that 1) was what I had in mind as I sat down to write this, and that 2) is a rather silly example, but it is illustrative of a major difference between the Net and the Real World. On the Net, we are capable of creating wholly new spaces and thus are not often faced with questions of legitimacy for Authority over those spaces. As the creator, Rusty is free to design a social space which is structured as he sees fit and as others are free to participate or go elsewhere (with no significant impact upon themselves), then his Authority within his space is entirely legitimate. In the Real World, of course, all of the space has long since been claimed so the outlet of creating anew is blocked.

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On Power And Authority | 91 comments (64 topical, 27 editorial, 0 hidden)
Disagreement on the role of government (4.00 / 2) (#5)
by rusty on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 04:26:07 AM EST

I agree with your premises, and your definitions of the terms. Where we diverge is on the question of whether those mean that the US government is illegitimate.

IMO, the role of government is to provide common advantage to a group of people. Some of the basic advantages of grouping together in a society are:

  • Protective services, such as property and life protection: uniform codes of law, free courts, police, and military are some of the forms this service takes.
  • Mutually beneficial economic services: A fair trade infrstructure, which allows people to pursue their interests and specialize, without everyone having to e.g. grow all their own food.
  • Cultural development: The ability to support artistic endeavors, which make life more than the brute struggle to reproduce.
Those are the top-of-my-head things, and I suspect that most of the good of societies, and the governments that administer them, come from one or another of those basic things. There are probably more that I'm not thinking of right now.

So, if that's what a government is for, then what constitutes a legitimate government? I would say that any government that effectively pursues its basic mandate, to the benefit of its subjects, is legitimate. Yes, this includes any number of forms -- in fact, this definition is form-neutral. I do think there have been forms of government that have proven to be more effective at doing these things than others, but I don't think we should start with an idea that the form a government takes necessarily dictates its legitimacy.

So, the fact that a government may not operate by the informed consent of those it rules does not necessarily make it illigitimate, if it accomplishes its mandate, and does not further burden the people. I think this was, in fact, the founding principle of the US government.

So what it comes down to is, we differ on whether passive consent is legitimate. I believe it is, for two reasons:

First, "citizenship" in the real world is not like "citizenship" online. You have to be born in a particular place. Given that no one could reasonably expect informed consent before some minimum age (like 18), where you were born, or who you were born to, almost always determines your "default" consent. Land is non-fungible.

Second, after a certain age, consent is assumed unless you take action otherwise. Many countries (including the US) do not require born-citizens to keep citizenship. You are free to emigrate anywhere that will accept you. Staying here is one sign of consent. Yes, it is passive, I believe necessarily, because of point one.

If leaving is not an option, and enough others are unwilling to continue to give their passive consent, there will be a popular revolution of some kind, and a new government will be instated. Ultimately, all rulers rule by popular consent. No matter who you are, if you don't have majority support on a basic level (i.e. a majority of Americans didn't vote for Dubya, but the vast majority support the concept of the elected President) you will not last as a ruler.

This is pretty disjointed. I'm sorry, it's late. If I can meander a little farther along, I would also like to point out that organizing a real-world state with defined borders along a strictly-informed-consent principle would seem to be unworkable. Unless, by withholding consent, voters were giving their tacit agreement to leave the state's borders and forfeit all land and holdings, I don't see how it could work. It would ultimately end up splitered into a million duchys and protectorates, fiefdoms of those rich enough to leave the greater society.

If it were the case that non-consenters agreed to leave, then I don't see how that differs from the "default consent" situation we have now.

Hopefully this made some kind of sense, and at least got near where I disagree with you. I'm not sure of it all, myself. Mostly thinking in ASCII here.

____
Not the real rusty

Ultimately, all rulers rule by popular consent (none / 0) (#16)
by wiredog on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 09:45:21 AM EST

That's the republican (not the party, the type of government) ideal. That the people are responsible for, rather than to, their government. Fortunately, the US doesn't assume that in its foriegn policy, else we would have held the Afghan people, rather than the Taliban, responsible for the sheltering of bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

Peoples Front To Reunite Gondwanaland: "Stop the Laurasian Separatist Movement!"
[ Parent ]
hrrrm (none / 0) (#30)
by Arkady on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 04:14:44 PM EST

Can't say I'll agree with that.

First, "the fact that a government may not operate by the informed consent of those it rules does not necessarily make it illigitimate, if it accomplishes its mandate, and does not further burden the people". I'd agree so far as to say that you could reasonably call a government that met this criteria a benign Power, but it's still a far cry from a legitimate Authority. Really, you haven't even got a requirement that the citizens even agree on what the State's mandate is. ;-)

That's a big deal, since even among the 300-or-so million citizens in the U.S. there is very little significant agreement over the basic mandate. Consider the vast gulf between the Anarchist/Libertarian perspective, the religious Theocratic perspetive, and the Socialist perspective. All three are represented by significant numbers of citizens, yet the State here does not consider their opinions relevant in considering the bounds of its mandate.

I certainly agree that consent at birth is impossible, and even that consent prior to some age of responsibility is unreasonable. I disagree entirely that responsibility to leave rests on the newly aged prospective citizen, though. While this would be reasonable were there still places to go and begin anew (as I was trying to point out by bringing in the Net's differences from the Real World at the end), in an environment where all space is claimed, this is unreasonable. The existing system _must_ provide a mechanism for born natives to challenge it as they reach their age of consent, otherwise the new person is not allowe to exercise any real right of self-determination; they are being stuck in a situation where they are only allowed to choose among pre-existing alternatives (to the extent that they are allowed to choose, which is certainly debatable in the modern world of immigration caps).

Both your and jasonab's arguments in favor of passive consent come down to "if enough people actively _dissent_ the existing order will be overthrown", which merely ties Authority back to Power. It's the same as saying that an Authority is legitimate as long as it's Power is sufficient to maintain itself in the face of dissent and that it loses this legitimacy as soon as the dissenters acquire sufficient Power to topple it. This negates any concept of legitimacy itself, by bringing back the idea that "might is right".

There's nothing wrong with disseners being able to fracture the State. Consider a theoretical situation which would meet the criteria I'm proposing: when a prospective citizen comes of age, they have the option of signing the Charter of their State (and thus giving consent and joining as a citizen) or of challenging some or all of it's principles by calling for a referendum on their proposed changes (on which the State must hold a ballot). If the changes win, the State changes and the person becomes a citizen by signing the new Charter (and thus giving consent); if not, and the changes rceived some sufficiently large support, those who supported the new proposals my declare the State fractured, and all citizens choose which of the two new States they will join. Otherwise, the person is free to leave, with no prejudice and receiving reasonable compensation for any non-transferable assets.

That structure, to the extent that the Real World allows for philosophical purity, would meet all the criteria I've proposed reasonably well. Of course, it would mean leaving the age of maonolithic States and would result in a rapid restructuring of population as like-minded individuals moved into newly created States which were structured to their liking. The world map would be re-drawn, going from a few hundred States to many thousands. but I see nothing wrong with that, as it would vastlyt increase the diversity of operant political and economic systems and create an opportunity for everyone to live in one which was structured to their liking.

It's not such a bad thing, and it's not as difficult as people make it out to be. I for one would certainly be willing to relocate to live in a free community which operated according to principles with which I agree. Wouldn't you?

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
Feudal baronies (none / 0) (#31)
by jasonab on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 04:37:28 PM EST

Both your and jasonab's arguments in favor of passive consent come down to "if enough people actively _dissent_ the existing order will be overthrown", which merely ties Authority back to Power. It's the same as saying that an Authority is legitimate as long as it's Power is sufficient to maintain itself in the face of dissent and that it loses this legitimacy as soon as the dissenters acquire sufficient Power to topple it. This negates any concept of legitimacy itself, by bringing back the idea that "might is right".
Power and authority are not so easily seperated -- someone will always refuse to respect an authority (whether legitimate or not), and power will be required to uphold that authority. That's the basic definition of a police force.
There's nothing wrong with disseners being able to fracture the State. Consider a theoretical situation which would meet the criteria I'm proposing: when a prospective citizen comes of age, they have the option of signing the Charter of their State (and thus giving consent and joining as a citizen) or of challenging some or all of it's principles by calling for a referendum on their proposed changes (on which the State must hold a ballot). If the changes win, the State changes and the person becomes a citizen by signing the new Charter (and thus giving consent); if not, and the changes rceived some sufficiently large support, those who supported the new proposals my declare the State fractured, and all citizens choose which of the two new States they will join. Otherwise, the person is free to leave, with no prejudice and receiving reasonable compensation for any non-transferable assets.
It seems you've just described a republic! You have the option of dissenting, of campagning to change laws, and of having ballot referendums. The only difference I see is that you give the dissenters the right to unilarterally break off from the existing state, and take some of that state with them (while paying for it). The only conclusion I can see to that is anarchy, or some sort of pre-Germany unification where you have tons and tons of little states that exert no real influence or power or authority. You claim that this would be a good thing, but I don't understand how you can merely claim that when the entire trend of human history has been larger and larger structures and communities. Clearly, there's some sort of Darwinian advantage to these systems.

The end result of all of this is that you don't seem to want to follow rules you don't like. You claim that if anyone disagrees with those rules, they shouldn't have to leave, they should be able to set up their own new state. I don't understand why this is a good thing. In the end, you'll have everyone in their own personal state, with no one respecting anyone else's view. It's important, nay imperative, that we not fracture when we disagree, but strive to accommodate people as best we can. That doesn't mean that every lunatic view (and I don't mean to target you with that statement) should get equal billing. It does mean that people can voice their views and work for change. That's what our system allows, and is a great source of strength.

[ Parent ]

not necessarily feudal ;-) (none / 0) (#32)
by Arkady on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 04:58:39 PM EST

I'd say that "the basic definition of a police force" is someithing more along the lines of "an organization which through force compels obedience to the dictates of a ruling class".

What I described was nothing like a republic. A republic is a political system in which legislative decision are made by elected representatives; there is nothing in a republic which gives citizens any direct say in the legislation, much less the fundamental structure, ofa republican State.

In case you were aware, I am one of the few "out of the closet" Anarchists on K5. The other site to which I posted this article is dedicated exclusevely to Anarchist theory and commentary, and this is definitely intended as an Anarchist critique of the conceptions of legitimacy extent in modern political discourse. ;-)

Darwinian advantage is, I think, not a reasonable legitimizing factor either. Certainly larger, more Powerful, States have an advantage over less Powerful States (as the U.S. daily demonstrates on the world stage) yet interference in the internal affairs of other states is rarely confused with having legitimate Authority over them. To say that survival and growth are legitimizing factors is again to bring Power back in, as might is completely sufficient for survival in the world over the last thousand years and you're just bring it back to "might makes right" to say that this legitimizes Authority.

It is more beneficial to fracture a society (or State) when the citizens disagree over fundamental issues than it is to continually fight over them. Consider the massive waste of effort and resources (not to mention lives) in the fight over abortion law in America. To fracture the country over the dispute about when a human life is legally protected would be completely reasonable, would allow partisans of each side to live in a State which agreed with their fundamental pronciples and would save huge amounts of effort and resources which could then be used to deal with other problems. I can't see how that's a bad thing.

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
Costs of fracturing (4.00 / 1) (#37)
by jasonab on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 06:31:26 PM EST

I'd say that "the basic definition of a police force" is someithing more along the lines of "an organization which through force compels obedience to the dictates of a ruling class".
That's a pretty convenient definition when you're trying to advocate anarchy. :-)
It is more beneficial to fracture a society (or State) when the citizens disagree over fundamental issues than it is to continually fight over them. Consider the massive waste of effort and resources (not to mention lives) in the fight over abortion law in America. To fracture the country over the dispute about when a human life is legally protected would be completely reasonable, would allow partisans of each side to live in a State which agreed with their fundamental pronciples and would save huge amounts of effort and resources which could then be used to deal with other problems. I can't see how that's a bad thing.
I have to admit that I find this somewhat baffling. While I agree that there are lots of resources wasted in the fight (although I do think discussions on human life are valuable), I have a hard time seeing how we'd save resources by fracturing the state. The immense loss of productivity, increased barriers to movement and trade, and general increase in business friction (aside from the psychological toll and general chaos that would result) would overwhelm any benefit.

I have to admit that the system you're advocating seems like some sort of trojan horse. If it were adopted, the effects would be so chaotic and deleterous as to destroy the benefits of the state, and lead to the anarchy you desire. You might as well advocate that everyone program in binary because you work as a filing clerk!

[ Parent ]

barriers and inconvenience (none / 0) (#42)
by Arkady on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 07:02:53 PM EST

Of course it's convenient; one's politcal affiliations are largely a matter of perspective on fundamental definitions. ;-)

I think you're significantly overstating the potential for disruption. Remember, of the two new States, one is merely the parent State scaled down by the withdrawal of some percentage of the populace and the other differs with the parent on only one fundamental issue (whatever it was which was challenged). It is, I think, reasonable to expect the two new States to cooperate closely in everything except whatever issue defines their difference and to remain a federated body presenting themselves as a single entity in most dealings with the outside world. Were the new State formed by revolution or a violens seccession, it would be reasonable to expect an antagonistic and disruptive relationship, but as it is formed by a peaceful, civil process it seems completely reasonable to expect the two to be quite close.

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
Abortion (5.00 / 1) (#43)
by Anonymous 6522 on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 08:09:34 PM EST

It is more beneficial to fracture a society (or State) when the citizens disagree over fundamental issues than it is to continually fight over them. Consider the massive waste of effort and resources (not to mention lives) in the fight over abortion law in America. To fracture the country over the dispute about when a human life is legally protected would be completely reasonable, would allow partisans of each side to live in a State which agreed with their fundamental pronciples and would save huge amounts of effort and resources which could then be used to deal with other problems. I can't see how that's a bad thing.

First, on abortion activists, I don't think that having their own state would really make any of them happy. For instance, anti-abortion activists, as a group they think that abortion is wrong and should be previented, for everyone. The abortion rate in their groups is pretty close to zero, so creating their own state would have no benefit for them, except, maybe, allowing them to raise an army (a legitimate one) to achieve their goals.

The point you raise in this comment is interesting, but it's pretty much guaranteed that some of the newly independent groups will be hostile twards one another, and that the this fracturing will remove much of regulating effect of having to live with people who are not ideologically compatable with you.

[ Parent ]

OK (none / 0) (#45)
by Arkady on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 08:20:15 PM EST

"First, on abortion activists, I don't think that having their own state would really make any of them happy."

That's probably true. ;-)

It would, however, remove the support for their primary claim that as contributors and citizens of the State their opinion on that topic should matter. After all, in their own State, things are as they wish them and to try to force that onto the others would rightly be seen as an expansionist tendency. Not that that would stop them, of course, but I think all but the most ambitious would let it drop there.

I think you're also correct that some new States would be antagonistic towards others, and possibly their parent State, especially at first as the schisms would be largest. I do think this effect would settle down over time as populations shifted towards an environment in which ideologically similar States would also be geographically closer.

I agree that things would definitely get more radical, as people were freed from the necessity of sharing soverignty with others with whom they have fundamental differences, but I don't think that's a bad thing. The diversity in organizational, economic and cultural structures that would arise would make the whole much more stable and capable of weathering crisis and any amount of internecine strife really couldn't make the international situation more violent than it already is. ;-)

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
Subject (none / 0) (#48)
by Anonymous 6522 on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 09:27:16 PM EST

I think you're also correct that some new States would be antagonistic towards others, and possibly their parent State, especially at first as the schisms would be largest. I do think this effect would settle down over time as populations shifted towards an environment in which ideologically similar States would also be geographically closer.

But, this hostility between the various parts of the fractured state could be exploited by a 3rd party to gain a foothold in the area. For example, this 3rd party could try to convince one of the new states that the other is out to get them, and ask for their help (or just their neutrality) in an invasion.

This is a problem that I have with pretty much every proposed decentralized political entity (say that 5 times fast) that I've come across. When they're discussed, those outside of the proposed system are rarely considered. Your Favorite Political System (and I'm not specifically aiming at you) may work out fine on paper, where it is considered by itself, without ouside interference, and with everyone participating in an ideal manner, but it may break down within a decade if it were actually tried out.

[ Parent ]

interference (none / 0) (#49)
by Arkady on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 09:52:11 PM EST

OK, that's a really good point. I must admit that, as I'm off in the rarified realms of theory here and completely missed that particular chonk o' gritty reality. ;-)

That's an importanct chunk too, and any theoretical treatment which didn't address it would definitely be incomplete. How's this?

OK, start with the scenario as given above, but add to it that, as the new State is created in such a schism that it is created automatically as an equal in the same federated structure of which the parent State is a member (this, in the Confederate States of America example, the CSA and the USA in the first schism would form one meta-State, similar to a CSA-style federation of autonyumous States whose states are the CSA and USA; at the second schism, this organization would then be comprised of the USA, CSA and whatever the third usit called itself). As any new State does need several years to stabilise itself, during this period of transition (with some fixed minimum and maximum time periods) the new State cannot seccede from this federation, as it is essentially a child-State and nt yet ready to play with the big boys.

This arrangement would protect new States from outside interference during their creation. It would not protect a State from outside agitators riling up the population to create a referendum for seccession, but then there's arguably no way to prevent that anyway.

You're certainly right to point to outside intervention as a major issue. I think, at least given a scenario in which the initial referndum for seccesion weren't filled with animosity, this modification would protect against that. In a climate of sufficient animosity, of course, there's no way to protect against outsiders subverting enough of the populace to make an invasion viable anyway. ;-)

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
Well... (none / 0) (#56)
by Anonymous 6522 on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 04:11:37 AM EST

That would address outside influence during the creation of a new state, but I don't think it solves all problems. You really need a requirement for the signing of NATO-like mutual defense treaties on state creation, or perhaps a shared defense force, but I can't help but think that this system will be at a severe disadvantage militarily.

A NATO-like treaty will only be able to scale to a certian number of states, and then it would become unworkable. If the states stay relatively large and strong, and assuming very few are controlled by peaceniks, a treaty like this could work well. A large number of very small states would be difficult to coordinate, and they'd probably each lack an effective, well-trained military.

A shared defense force, I doubt it would be possible to fit such a thing into what you're proposing. There'd be problems about how it's run. Peaceniks would be less of a problem, as they could stick to the more peaceful aspects of military action, like getting everyone fed, but a large number would still be disadvantageous.

I also have doubts about how this would work commercially. If it got anything like the US under the articles of confederation, it's viability would be severly reduced. People will still want to make a buck trading, and if that gets unnecessarilty difficult or expensive, the whole system will be discarded, or living standards will go down significantly.

[ Parent ]

military (5.00 / 1) (#72)
by Arkady on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 04:32:19 PM EST

I can see that it would be a military disadvantage, as you point out, but I don't think military advantage should really be a major criteria in social organization. Besides, Switzerland does work (and always has) on a similar distributed federal concept and has _never_ been conquored. Granted, they have serious natural defenses as well, but the deleterious effect of their distrubuted structure hasn't been sufficient to weaken them significantly. They've also demonstrated that you can in fact have a very effective self-defense force with no central controlling power. They've only a few cantons, compared to what I'm proposing, but there's no reason that such federated structures cannot scale well by adding addition layers of federation (to reduce the complexity and strife within a given layer).

I think the same arguments apply to commercial issues as well, though having a one-world currency (as I'd also support, but with restricion on movement of large capital blocks) would significantly reduce the barriers to such trade (where trade was desired; trade sanctions would certainly be an attractive mechanism for expressing disapproval of one State in such an environment).

(Parenthetically, I want to thank you for disputing so politely and eloquently on an article which you voted against; it's definitely a pleasure not to get flamed. ;-)

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
All you do is create more bureaucracy that way... (none / 0) (#83)
by UncleMikey on Sat Jan 05, 2002 at 01:21:31 PM EST

but there's no reason that such federated structures cannot scale well by adding addition layers of federation (to reduce the complexity and strife within a given layer).

In theory, there's no reason. But if there's one thing that the United States has proved, it's that more layers just provide more jobs for bureaucrats and more ways to pass the buck. Bureaucracies entrench themselves and, once entrenched, become power-and-money magnets, sucking energy out of the system.

Consider this: the average American has not one single government to answer to, but four: locality, county, state, and federal. Even if you assumed that we first reformed the way we constitute our authorities (which was what you were really driving at), would you really want to add another layer to that mess?
--
[ Uncle Mikey | Radio Free Tomorrow ]
[ Parent ]

bureaucracy (none / 0) (#86)
by Arkady on Sun Jan 06, 2002 at 02:47:36 PM EST

You're making a fundamental error, I think, in associating the amount of bureaucracy created by a centralized power with that which would be created in a federated system.

In America, as all power comes from the center, each level does create a new bureaucracy, as it must administer control of every level below it. In a federation, each level is autonymous within itself, and in only forced to interact with the leval above it as necessary to coordinate things on a scale larger than itself. This means that it need not replicate any structure for which it already has a local provision onto the larger scale, so it would not duplicate structures as a centralized power does. This would dramatically decrease the amount of bureaucracy involved in administering the same size land or population.

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
fascism (none / 0) (#33)
by Arkady on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 05:09:35 PM EST

Also, at the risk of sounding like some knee-jerking teenager, I should point out that the assertion that the unity of the State is the primary good is the defining attribute of Fascism. The word is derived from the Roman "fasces", a bundle of reeds which symbolized the unity of the empire (one reed breaks easily, but a bundle does not break at all).

Not that I'm calling you a fascist here. ;-)

I just thought I should point out that there is a name for that part of the argument you're putting forward here, and that's it.

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
Unity is beneficial, but not paramount (none / 0) (#38)
by jasonab on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 06:37:16 PM EST

I just thought I should point out that there is a name for that part of the argument you're putting forward here, and that's it.
I'm really not trying to propose some sort of "unity above all" argument, but instead I'm trying to point out that we're better off together than apart.

Compare the American Civil War. Had the Conferderacy split off, the two nations would have been much weaker seperately than they ended up together. Again with the German example: modern Germany is a much stronger and richer nation than the Holy Roman Empire could ever have been. That theory is the driving force behind the EU, the Euro, NAFTA, FTAA, and any other agreement that tends to lower barriers between groups of people. The more we trade goods and knowledge, the more of everything we have. Your model would totally fracture that and, in my view, drive us back developmentally.

[ Parent ]

OK (none / 0) (#39)
by Arkady on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 06:55:12 PM EST

Good point.

I strongly disagree with you on the Confederacy issue (that "the two nations would have been much weaker seperately than they ended up together"). As two nations, cooperating, they would be much stronger than a single nation, since they would have been able to maintain sufficient social and economic diversity that they would have stood a better chance of weathering hardships (which would tend to affect one more than the other, allowing the less affected to support the more). The obvious analogy is ecology, in which it well demonstrated that monocultures are very fragile and likely to be destroyed by minor catastrophes, whereas diverse biomes tend to be very reslient and adaptable.

The example of Germany only supports your assertion in that the two nations were wholly antagonistic towards each other, rather than cooperating in those areas where they held similar views and motives. Rather than being two nations with different internal ecomomic structures, but which were federated together to present a united face to the external world, they considered each other to be antagonists and not partner nations, as you would expect nations formed by schism over a single issue to be.

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
HRE (none / 0) (#52)
by jasonab on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 12:12:31 AM EST

The example of Germany only supports your assertion in that the two nations were wholly antagonistic towards each other, rather than cooperating in those areas where they held similar views and motives. Rather than being two nations with different internal ecomomic structures, but which were federated together to present a united face to the external world, they considered each other to be antagonists and not partner nations, as you would expect nations formed by schism over a single issue to be.
I think you misunderstood my analogy. I was referring to Holy Roman Empire Germany (pre-Napoleon). I see your political theory leading to the world being divided up into thousands of little states the size of feudal baronies, all vying with one another (i.e. the Holy Roman Empire).

[ Parent ]
Gotcha (none / 0) (#53)
by Arkady on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 12:23:48 AM EST

Thanks for correcting that; I'd thought you were talking about East/West Germany of the 20th century. I suppose I should probably have guessed that from your comparing modern Germany to the Holy Roman Empire, but all that passed through my mind at that was confusion at bring Constantine into it. ;-)

I have to say, I find your description in your other comment of "a bunch of teeny countries loosly tied together, but operating mostly independently" to be very apt and attractive. That's a very good way to characterize one aspect of what I find attractive about that result.

I'd add that to bring NAFTA and the FTAA into it is, in my opinion, to ague in favor of a system which would have prevented those two particular treaties. They've done wonders for capital, of course, but the U.S. has been shedding jobs like there's no tomorrow since NAFTA passed. I don't see the free movement of capital to be an advantage, since it only provides a mechanism, for its controllers to extract wealth from the people of one region and then use it as a base from which to go elsewhere and extract more from someone else.

So, on the whole, I'm all in favor of a world organized as "a bunch of teeny countries loosly tied together, but operating mostly independently".

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
Not Feudal at all. (4.00 / 1) (#50)
by UncleMikey on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 11:12:29 PM EST

Feudalism has nothing to do with fracturing into 'personal states'.

Feudalism is a delegation of power from the top down. A king grants the right to govern a parcel of land to a duke, who grants the right to govern a smaller parcel of land to a lord, who in turn administers law and justice to a body of peasants. Each level ultimately answers to a higher power (with the King being theoretically answerable to G-d).
--
[ Uncle Mikey | Radio Free Tomorrow ]
[ Parent ]

Feudal sized (4.00 / 1) (#51)
by jasonab on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 12:09:15 AM EST

Feudalism has nothing to do with fracturing into 'personal states'.
Well, it does, and it doesn't. No, those states won't have a feudal political structure. The image I was trying to involke was the multiple-barony concept, where every castle was independent from the other. Think of every nation in the world being Luxemburg or Lichtenstein. As I mentioned in another post, I see the world becoming like the Holy Roman Empire: a bunch of teeny countries loosly tied together, but operating mostly independently.

[ Parent ]
Darwin and nation states: (none / 0) (#68)
by Canimal on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 02:37:39 PM EST

You claim that this [anarchy or mini-states] would be a good thing, but I don't understand how you can merely claim that when the entire trend of human history has been larger and larger structures and communities. Clearly, there's some sort of Darwinian advantage to these systems.

It's a little tricky making Darwinian comparisons between societies, but in any case, Darwinian advantage doesn't equate to desirability. It is not hard to imagine a world where the Nazis won WWII.

Nation states are a stable form of organization, but ever bigger nations, or empires, are not clearly more stable than smaller ones. If anything, these days it appears to be the reverse.

Matt



[ Parent ]
Significant agreement (none / 0) (#58)
by wiredog on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 08:15:13 AM EST

...even among the 300-or-so million citizens in the U.S. there is very little significant agreement over the basic mandate. ... yet the State here does not consider their opinions relevant in considering the bounds of its mandate.

There is significant agreement on the basic mandate, in this document.

WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness -- 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.


Peoples Front To Reunite Gondwanaland: "Stop the Laurasian Separatist Movement!"
[ Parent ]
doubtful (none / 0) (#61)
by Arkady on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 01:12:28 PM EST

While a lot of folks would claim, as you do, that there is a broad support constituting a mandate for the government in the Declaration, I've seen little evidence of that. In fact, in a test cited by Larry Gonick in his "History of the United States", 112 people were asked to sign a petition endorsing the Declaration and 111 refused.

1/112 doesn't sound like much of an endorsement.

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
Question: (none / 0) (#66)
by Canimal on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 02:18:25 PM EST

. . . when a prospective citizen comes of age, they have the option of signing the Charter of their State (and thus giving consent and joining as a citizen) or of challenging some or all of it's principles by calling for a referendum on their proposed changes (on which the State must hold a ballot). If the changes win, the State changes and the person becomes a citizen by signing the new Charter (and thus giving consent); if not, and the changes rceived some sufficiently large support, those who supported the new proposals my declare the State fractured, and all citizens choose which of the two new States they will join. Otherwise, the person is free to leave, with no prejudice and receiving reasonable compensation for any non-transferable assets.

Does not sound at all workable to me, but let's leave that aside for the moment.

Suppose I come of age and simply refuse to play the game at all. I don't sign the charter, I don't propose any changes, and I don't leave either. I just say, "leave me the fuck alone."

What happens to me then?

Matt



[ Parent ]
depends on the place (none / 0) (#71)
by Arkady on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 02:48:02 PM EST

Since the whole idea is to have a situation where there is a vast number if markedly different environments, it'd really depend on where you were. ;-)

I'd say that the most fair way of dealing with that would be classing that response as choosing resident non-citizen status, in which you live there yet do not participate in the policical arena. The biggest disadvantage such a person would have would be that unlike a resident who is a citizen of a different polity, such a person would be truly alone and have no group of which they are a member working on their behalf in the inter-State community.

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
No state is legitimate (4.00 / 3) (#7)
by jasonab on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 04:29:40 AM EST

I really find this entire article absurd, but here goes....

1) The American State is not a legitimate Authority, but rather merely enforces the will of its rulers by its Power. This is true because it has never, even at its creation, gained the consent and endorsement of the people residing within the borders it claims. Though it may be possible that it would receive a majority vote in its favor (though whether a majority would even turn out for such a vote is doubtful), this has never even been attempted. At its inception, it did not even attempt to poll the vast majority of those living within its borders.
Ok, just so I understand: authority is illegitimate if all people under that authority do not consent to it in a full and free manner.

Besides the fact that this means parents have no authority over their children, I can't think of a single state that would be legitimate under your definition. Even if there was a vote on "the system" that passed, that vote would have to be redone every year for everyone who "came of age" that year, since people born under a system, by your definition, haven't really consented.

I will assert in rebuttal that full and free acquiecence to a system grants legitimate authority (passive endorsment, in a manner of speaking). Whenever people participate in the system, they accept the authority over them freely. If a majority of people refused to vote, pay taxes, or in any way participate in the governemnt, said government would fail. As long as people accept an authority by choice, it is legitimate. If people choose to neither endorse nor reject something, it cannot be said to be illegitimate. It takes active rejection to illegitimize something.

In the end, I really don't understand the point of your piece, other than to point out that joining a social group involves more active choice than being born into a country. Your point about Rusty's legitimacy could apply to Rotarians or fantasy footbal players as much as any Internet utopia. You seem to be setting up definitions merely to prove that no goverment is legitimate in your mind. In the end, you merely prove that you can win any argument as long as you define the terms to be argued.

None of this matters (4.00 / 3) (#11)
by delmoi on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 05:01:15 AM EST

The various denotations and subtitles of definitions of words may have loopholes that let you say whatever you want. But that doesn't mean anything.

Words are defined by how they are used. If you to ask every American if the government had legitimate authority, they would tell you that it did. Now, doing this would in one step tell you what 'legitimate authority' meant, and that the US government. (now, if you were to ask if the US government was legitimate, quite a few Gore voters might say no. but that isn't exactly what were talking about)

The other point I'd like to make, is that none of this matters anyway. 'legitimate power' 'authority', and other terms are simply labels for emergent properties of human societies. Playing word games that let you say "The US government is illegitimate" does not in any way change the reality of the situation, nor is it really going to convince anyone with a brain to go out and burn down the House.
--
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
legitimacy (4.00 / 1) (#13)
by krkrbt on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 05:21:58 AM EST

I thought the article was great.. There have been several comments on your questioning the legitimacy of government:
I can't think of a single state that would be legitimate under your definition.
what constitutes a legitimate government?

For everyone out there: Consider the possibility that the concepts of legitimacy and government are mutually exclusive. (government cannot be legitimate). It's late, so i'll just post a link or two:

http://www.buildfreedom.com/legitimacy.htm
uhm, and anything else at buildfreedom.com

Order, liberty, wealth, safety, prosperity - these are all things that arguably exist in modern times in spite of "government"j. Liberty is the most difficult of all principles to defend, especially with the rabid cries of blind patriotism that are oh-so-prevalent these days. Thanks for the article, there's hope for freedom after all! ;)

Here's a simplistic view (3.00 / 1) (#19)
by mcherm on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 12:31:43 PM EST

Here's an (admitedly simplistic) view which contradicts your arguments (well... some of them. The piece was fairly long).

1. USA government (and most recent governments) is based on a "Constitution". This constitution sets out the rules and designates who has what authority as well as how and when it can be delegated. It even lays out rules for how to interpret these rules when there is a question (supreme court) and a process for modifying the fundamental rules (ammendment). It even laid out rules for how it itself would be adopted (logically unfounded, but kinda cool anyhow). This is a very clearly-defined system and, as you point out, all immigrants consent to it when they enter the country.

Native-born citizens have the option of moving out if they like (well... unless they're in jail or some such thing). And they consent by being born... see my next point.

2. Government does not require consent of the governed. Sorry... but if it did, then most murderers would opt out. Government is a club that you CAN'T opt out of... with the single exception of moving to a place where that government doesn't claim to rule (and even then, you may have some problems).


-- Michael Chermside
I agree, your view is simplistic... (none / 0) (#21)
by tankgirl on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 01:56:13 PM EST

Were the 'American' Indians given an opportunity to 'opt out'?

Yes, I guess they were 'opted' right out of their homes. The terms 'Power' and 'Authority' were confused even then...

American soldiers presented papers that stated their 'authority' to govern over these people. When the Indians did not recognize this as 'authorized' by them, they refused to consent. So 'power' was used to enforce the will of the US government, this, however, did not legitimize the claim that was made.

Who had the authority, and who had the power in that situation?

It's really never that simple, and I think that's Arkady's point.

jeri.
"I'm afraid of Americans. I'm afraid of the world. I'm afraid I can't help it." -David Bowie
[ Parent ]
Damned if you do.... (2.50 / 2) (#22)
by spacefrog on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 02:23:27 PM EST

Microsoft's campaign to eliminate MP3 and other "uncontrollable" formats by blocking support in their operating systems

Sheesh... They bundle something, it's labeled anticompetitive.

They don't bundle something and they are accused of trying to "eliminate" something.

So which is it, people?



actually (4.00 / 1) (#24)
by Arkady on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 02:45:02 PM EST

It's a bit more complicated than just bundling Windows Media Player. By including _bad_ support for MP3, and making it difficult to add a replacement MP3 engine (through their signed driver requirements), they have actually gone out of their way to discourage (not to prevent, that would be too obvious) users of their OS from using the MP3 (or other non-WMP) formats.

I suppose that I should have listed this one under subtle exercise of Power. ;-)

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
Low stakes (5.00 / 1) (#25)
by tudlio on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 02:56:54 PM EST

It's a lot easier to give consent to Rusty, since the scope of the power he exercises with his authority is pretty durn limited. The worst he can do is keep you from expressing your opinion on one small corner of the net.

The same can be said (with possible exception) anywhere online.

The stakes are much higher, obviously, when you're talking politics. States kill people.




insert self-deprecatory humor here
absolutely (none / 0) (#26)
by Arkady on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 03:19:43 PM EST

Good point; I didn't mention that.

I was primarilly focused on the structural difference between the Net and Real World spaces, in that on the Net we can design wholly new spaces but in the Real World we can't. I was trying to demonstrate that in one environment we _can_ achieve theoretical purity (from a political philosophy perspective), while in the other there are potentially insurmountable obstacles to that.

But, as you point out, though we can achieve purity on the Net, the stakes are much lower. It's kind of the reverse of what would be desirable: where the stakes are higher, it's much more desirable to be able to do things completely and properly. ;-)

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
politics (none / 0) (#28)
by krkrbt on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 03:38:30 PM EST

States kill people.

...and politics hurt.

[ Parent ]
about the conclusion (none / 0) (#47)
by Arkady on Wed Jan 02, 2002 at 09:24:17 PM EST

I really should add a point 3) to the conclusion:

3) Corporations have no Authority, only Power. Putting aside the question of whether their charter documents are issued by a legitimate Authority or not, corporations are nothing more than a point on which the economic Power of the shareholders may be colectively focused, via the controlled physical and mental Power of those whom they have the economic resources to hire to act out their wishes. In the modern construct of corporations, this is especially egregious, as corporate law exists to remove responsibility for their actions from the shareholder class by placing it on the fictitios entity, the corporation. Corporations, therefore, are nothing more than a tool used by the financially powerful class to focus their resources via hired front people and which function to remove from them any personal responsibility for their actions.


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


Corporate Power/Authority (5.00 / 1) (#60)
by Hobbes2100 on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 11:33:45 AM EST

Let's see. I agree that corporations have Power. I agree (mostly) that corporations in our society lack adequate enforcement of their responsibility.

However, I'm taking a look at the definition of authority that you present and going through it I see:

  1. The shareholders of a corporation authorize the board of the corporation to take actions on behalf of their interests. Hence the board is authorized (given authority) by the shareholders. You may argue that this is a valid point, but nevertheless, the board is authorized not the corporation.

    As you pointed out, a corporation is merely a "point" without real existence. So, if you claim the board is authorized (and not the corporation) I will claim the board has the power (and authority) and that the corporation has neither (a point has neither length nor breadth <grin>).

  2. While there may be exceptions, workers are not generally forced (coerced) to work for a corporation. In fact, most make actively, freely, and (most arguably) informedly consent to work for their employer. They agree to trade money for labor. If people are willing to consent to work for corporations, does this lend authority to the corporation? Certainly the worker is supplying their resources towards the corporations efforts (be those efforts good or bad).

    On the informed consent note: workers certainly become informed as they gain experience in the company. They are free to leave. So, as they gain information they are free to reevaluate their opinion of the contract and leave if they want. The corporation (or the manager who is authorized by the CEO who is authorized by the board) is also free to terminate employment.

Is this a caricature? Yes. Are there other things going on? Yes. But I think this is a more accuracte picture than a simple statement that corporations have no authority. They do have authority; it comes from several different sources.

Regards,
Mark
Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes? --Iuvenalis
But who will guard the guardians themselves? -- Juvenal
[ Parent ]

good points (none / 0) (#64)
by Arkady on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 01:24:05 PM EST

And well said; I like the point about a point having "neither length nor breadth". ;-)

To respond, first, you're right about the shareholders authorizing the Board. To the extent that the shareholders have a citizen-endorsed Authority, then the Board does as well (the Board being a completely legitimate delegation of whatever Authority is held by the shareholders). The shareholders, however, have no civil Authority whatsoever, as they are neither elected nor endorsed by the populace; they are shareholders merely by virtue of wealth. So, from within the narrow perspective of the corporations themselves, the Board is a legitimate Authority but from the wider perspective of civil society, the Board are no more a legitimate Authority than the shareholders themselves are. That's an expanded version of what I meant.

I would also argue that workers do, as you say, choose to trade labor for money, but that that is not a free choice. First, the economic structure in this country is such that they have no choice but to make that decision, as there are no other options than to acquire money in order to sustain their own lives. Nor do they really have a choice in for whom they will work (except in the more rarified professions), since the State in America intentionally aims for an unemployment rate of about 5% in order to manage the effect of labor insecurity on wages (standard supply & demand stuff there). This last has been _very_ well documented, to the extend that Clinton's Labor spokesperson cited that figure in a press conference.

Now, with a greater diversity of economic structures to choose from (to ensure that an option other than trading labor for money actually existed) and in an environment which guaranteed sufficient education and variety to see that actual choice in types of work existing (as well as which managed the self-reinforcing effect of large capital blocks, prefereably by eliminating them entirely), yes this would be a fair criticism you're making. But I really don't think it applies to the Real World.

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
Good Clarification (5.00 / 1) (#80)
by Hobbes2100 on Fri Jan 04, 2002 at 11:18:15 AM EST

Thanks for clarifying the civil/corporate authority point. They are definitely two distinct creatures. Just one little point, the shareholders do have some civil authority. It is just a very, very small amount (preferably proportional to the number of shareholders).

I think the real point about corporations is that in our society they are "more than the sum of their parts". That is to say, corporation (civil) power vastly exceed corporation (civil) authority. It seems to me this is a result of the (civil) power being a result of individual wealth, both in the corporation and the shareholders who look after each other's interests.

I guess the summary is that (democratic civil) authority is tied to the individual while (capitalistic civil) power is tied to wealth.

On the note of worker's freedom of choice: this is a tricky issue. No individual in history has ever been free of necessity. For example, I am compelled to eat, drink, and sleep. I have no choice in the matter. This is, however, pretty trivial. Now, in order to do those necessities, I must 1) get food, 2) get drink, and sometimes 3) get safe shelter (think of being homeless on a cold night).

That is to say, I cannot simply exist and have food, drink, and shelter come to me. In the real world, as you say, I must either get these things directly (be a farmer or a hunter, have access to a stream, build a log cabin) or get them indirectly (get a job, get money for the job, trade money for necessities). I'll admit, going the direct route is practically impossible. However, people are free to try to do so (even if it means failing). The responsiblity of society to care for those who cannot achieve the indirect route (since noone is expected to go the direct route), is a separate issue.

As a sidebar, I think the thing that forces people to be corporate slaves is their consumerism. If people were more content with the necessities and less interested in spending wantonly, then there would be much less need for the almighty dollar (and the corporations producing to satisfy these cravings). Even among those who can afford the necessities, I see far too many going after worthless junk (many times on credit) and getting into financial trouble.

Regards,
Mark

P.S. We should discuss the other arguments in your last two paragraphs offline.
Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes? --Iuvenalis
But who will guard the guardians themselves? -- Juvenal
[ Parent ]

Should've stopped at "power legitimizes itsel (none / 0) (#54)
by valency on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 01:11:45 AM EST

In modern American usage, Authority derives legitimacy only from tradition (age) or from another, greater, Authority. The state and federal governments are commonly considered to hold legitimate Authority because they have been so considered for over 200 years and they are commonly considered to be able to delegate legitimate Authority to people and other organizations.

The American government holds legitimate authority because the sum of the power held by the individuals who wish the government to govern exceeds the sum of the power held by those who do not wish it to govern.

Were this not the case, we would obviously have a violent revolution in short order.

Power legitimizes itself. Leave it at that.

As a side note, this is why democracies are so popular. It's not that they're some how "morally good" -- rather, they're more stable. When the balance of power shifts, the ruling party gets voted out, so there's never a need for a violent uprising. You could think of democracy as a very effective pressure-release valve on the balance of power.

Of course, all this is predicated on the fact that in the absence of a government (ie in a state of anarchy), the power held by a group of people is approximately proportional to the number of people (and their ability to work together effectively).



---
If you disagree, and somebody has already posted the exact rebuttal that you would use: moderate, don't post.
hmm (none / 0) (#55)
by Arkady on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 01:21:32 AM EST

That's a good point about democracies having a stabilizing (or anti-revolutionary) aspect by offering reguler (regardless of how stage managed) elections.

What I said in an earlier comment (replying to other similar assertions) though, applies to the assertion that the State is a legitimate Authority for so long as it has sufficient power to crush dissent:

Both your and jasonab's arguments in favor of passive consent come down to "if enough people actively _dissent_ the existing order will be overthrown", which merely ties Authority back to Power. It's the same as saying that an Authority is legitimate as long as it's Power is sufficient to maintain itself in the face of dissent and that it loses this legitimacy as soon as the dissenters acquire sufficient Power to topple it. This negates any concept of legitimacy itself, by bringing back the idea that "might is right".

This perspective negates any concept of legitimacy or Authority and leaves only Power, for if Power legitimizes Authority then there's nothing else necessary. This is essentially an assertion that Power is _always_ correct, and that anything which anyone can force to happen is correct. I certainly hope that you would not want to live in a world operated by that principle any more than I would.

-robin


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
Too Bad (none / 0) (#81)
by SnowBlind on Fri Jan 04, 2002 at 05:39:54 PM EST

Too bad we have a representitive Republic where a localized majority can override a national majority. I.e. the number of electoral votes held by CA and NY.
A localized minority can override a slightly wider majority as well. This generally called Gerrymandering and usually happens at very local levels.

To parapharase a certian author "America sucks, but it is still six times better than anywhere else."

There is but One Kernel, and root is His Prophet.
[ Parent ]
Hmm (none / 0) (#57)
by ariux on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 05:13:14 AM EST

I don't buy that the Net is different from the "Real World" in the way you assert in the last paragraph. Technology tends to shape itself to fit people and their familiar social patterns, rather than vice versa.

The rest I find very thought-provoking. I can't disagree with your definition and initial examples of power. The distinction you draw between active and passive consent is interesting, though I'm not sure I follow it to the conclusion you end up with.

Read "Revolt in 2100" (none / 0) (#59)
by wiredog on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 08:22:07 AM EST

In the second part, after the Moral Majority is removed from power, there is a government set up with just the option described in some of the other comments. People who don't like the current system can go to "Coventry", a place where they can have whatever system they want without bothering the people in the rest of the country.

Peoples Front To Reunite Gondwanaland: "Stop the Laurasian Separatist Movement!"
damn (none / 0) (#69)
by Arkady on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 02:41:07 PM EST

I haven't read that since I was in high school (I still have a very old copy, though).

I do have a problem with the single reservation for non-conformists concept, though. It basically sets aside only a small fixed area, and forces all inside it to share that space (it was also used in the Kilgore Trout book "Venus on The Half-Shell"). This pretty much gurantees that the most (and best) of the land will be reserved for "the system", rather than allowing for reasonable fragmentation by dissenters.

It's probably _better_ than a situation in which there's nowhere new or free to go, but not by a lot.

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
What isn't mentioned... (5.00 / 3) (#63)
by trhurler on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 01:20:45 PM EST

of course, is that Arkady dislikes the whole notion of authority on its face. This wouldn't be much of an omission, except for the fact that the article is horribly biased, and readers deserve clues to that.

Here are a few more clues: there are at least a dozen nations that are reasonably believed to possess nuclear weapons. By Arkady's analysis, not one of them has a legitimate government. If we disband those governments, does anyone really think this is going to magically remove those nukes? If so, where are the dismantling facilities and materials processing plants going to come from, and at whose expense, and who will staff them? (Hint: that problem is intractable in the short term, and probably in the mid term also.) If not, then who precisely is going to possess these weapons, and, it must be asked, under what authority?

Tanks, planes, and so on can be scrapped, sold to the highest bidder, or whatever. Nukes, however, are another story: even merely storing them safely is beyond the means of any organization smaller than a middling sized government. A Fortune 500 could do it, but probably only by making that its sole business, and one has to wonder where the profit would be in that.

The point is, even if you don't question any of the philosophical aspects of this story(which I do,) there is certainly a practical reason why we aren't all ditching our governments: we don't need all their excesses, but as of right now, we do in fact need them, even if only to clean up their own messes.

(As for my philosophical arguments, I choose to present only one: it is claimed herein that popular support could justify authority. This is an absurd fiction of those who think democracy is a cure for all ills; in simple point of fact, authority does not derive from the whims of a mob. Ideally, authority could only derive from unanimous consent - but we all know that this would never be a workable state of affairs. There is no perfect solution, because government is a very imperfect representation of the concept we call "law." However, nobody has yet convinced me that there is any more perfect representation available, and the loons who talk about doing away with law as such have yet to convince me that they shouldn't be put away for their own good.)

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

Nuclear deterrence for fun and profit: (5.00 / 1) (#65)
by Canimal on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 02:09:54 PM EST

Nukes, however, are another story: even merely storing them safely is beyond the means of any organization smaller than a middling sized government. A Fortune 500 could do it, but probably only by making that its sole business, and one has to wonder where the profit would be in that.

In several of Ken MacLeod's science fiction stories, there is a company that owns a handful of nukes. They make their money selling nuclear deterrence contracts to nations that are too small to afford their own nukes.

It would be a risky business, though.

Matt



[ Parent ]
Problems (5.00 / 1) (#70)
by trhurler on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 02:42:17 PM EST

First of all, no place on earth would let you sell such contracts. This makes the idea impossible on its face.

Second, even if you had a place from which to do it, unless you were the government of that place, rather than merely a corporation, you still could not provide a credible deterrent. This is for several reasons:
  • You cannot actually guarantee that your government will allow you to fire missiles at another country if push comes to shove. In fact, it seems likely they would not do so unless they themselves were threatened by nuclear weapons, as this would provoke a nuclear response. Moreover, why would they even let you exist? Where's the advantage to them? For a small nation, the advantage would be to seize and deploy your weapons. For a larger one, such as the US or China, the advantage would be to seize and destroy your weapons, both to show commitment to nonproliferation and also because if you launch, you imperil the well being of the citizens and govenrment of that nation, and risk sending it to war.
  • The cost to you to maintain not only nuclear weapons, but functional delivery systems, adequate safeguards, and a guarantee of availability upon demand is certainly not much less than the cost to a small government - and yet you expect not just to cover expenses, but to make money? Where is the profit? (Remember that you can't use the same weapons in multiple contracts; nuclear war will tend to proliferate, and you must have adequate weapons on hand to satisfy all your contracts at once in order to be credible.)
  • There is serious question as to whether anyone working for a corporation that is otherwise uninvolved in some regional conflict would actually be willing to press a button labelled "incinerate half a million people." Corporations can do evil things, but generally not quite so transparently - because by and large, people are not evil. If you can't somehow guarantee - not only to your clients, but to the rest of the world as well - that you not only can, but will push the button, you lose.
  • You would need many launch locations, each continually armed and ready, spread around the globe. The cost would be beyond exorbitant, and this makes the issue of finding soveriegn territory from which to fire even worse. Without such locations, your credibility as a deterrent is weakened by the possibility of a preemptive strike destroying your launch facilities.
Not just risky. Impossible. Credible nuclear deterrence is a lot harder than just having a few nukes, which is why it has historically been so mind numbingly expensive.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
International Waters (none / 0) (#75)
by Nater on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 07:31:33 PM EST

Staging the actual "service" from international waters takes care of most of the location/autonomy concerns. The other business parts can surely find a place to do business on land, so long as the nukes are at sea. The cost and humanity issues are still there, though, and I think the idea of governments outsourcing their nuclear weapons is silly anyway, even if international waters do clear up some of your counterpoints. However, the possibility of a single government outsourcing the big red button to a domestic company is less far-fetched.


i heard someone suggest that we should help the US, just like they helped us in WWII. By waiting three years, then going over there, flashing our money around, shagging all the women and acting like we owned the place. --Seen in #tron


[ Parent ]
Still no (none / 0) (#76)
by trhurler on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 07:51:23 PM EST

Staging the actual "service" from international waters takes care of most of the location/autonomy concerns.
At horrendous expense, it solves some of the problems I listed. At even more horrendous expense, it solves more of them, depending entirely on how horrendous an expense your hypothetical company can endure. It will not resolve the worst of the problems, though. See below.
The other business parts can surely find a place to do business on land, so long as the nukes are at sea.
I very seriously doubt this; governments are in the habit of labelling people who do things such as you are proposing as "criminals," "terrorists," and so on. Who would willingly have the offices of a corporate nuclear power, and why? What amazing benefits would that country acquire by this that would outweigh the ongoing international embargoes and other stigma and pressure that would certainly endure, and also outweigh the risk of becoming a target of a nuclear first strike(to behead the corporation?)
However, the possibility of a single government outsourcing the big red button to a domestic company is less far-fetched.
I don't think so. This offers zero advantages I can think of and numerous disadvantages that I'm sure everyone can think of.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Read carefully (none / 0) (#77)
by Nater on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 08:37:26 PM EST

At horrendous expense, it solves some of the problems I listed.

You must have missed the sentence where I stated that exact same sentiment, with the additional stipulation that it doesn't solve some other problems you've pointed out.

> The other business parts can surely find a place to do business on land, so long as the nukes are at sea.
I very seriously doubt this; governments are in the habit of labelling people who do things such as you are proposing as "criminals," "terrorists," and so on. Who would willingly have the offices of a corporate nuclear power, and why? What amazing benefits would that country acquire by this that would outweigh the ongoing international embargoes and other stigma and pressure that would certainly endure, and also outweigh the risk of becoming a target of a nuclear first strike(to behead the corporation?)

Are you saying that no place on Earth would harbor terrorists? I think it's been proven well enough in the last four months that such places do exist.

> However, the possibility of a single government outsourcing the big red button to a domestic company is less far-fetched.
I don't think so. This offers zero advantages I can think of and numerous disadvantages that I'm sure everyone can think of.

I didn't say it wasn't far-fetched for one very good reason: it is far-fetched. But even you have to admit that it's less far-fetched, which is exactly what I said the first time around.

I'd also like to point out that I'm not arguing in favor of this hypothetical business. I'm just saying that two out of four of your bullet-pointed arguments against it are solved with one answer. In particular, it solves the issues you raise in points 1 (location of launch sites) and 4 (number of launch sites) of your original argument. And yes, it does so at the expense of exacerbating the issues raised in your second point (expense) and with no net effect on the issues of your third point (willingness to fire), so please try not to point that out to me again in the belief that I don't get it.


i heard someone suggest that we should help the US, just like they helped us in WWII. By waiting three years, then going over there, flashing our money around, shagging all the women and acting like we owned the place. --Seen in #tron


[ Parent ]
Solutions (?): (none / 0) (#79)
by Canimal on Fri Jan 04, 2002 at 12:31:32 AM EST

Goodness. That wasn't really a serious proposal, but let me see what I can do to defend it anyway.

You cannot actually guarantee that your government will allow you to fire missiles at another country if push comes to shove . . .

You'd probably have to be an extranational company, operating only quasi-legally. That means the big guys are going to try to step on you. However, if you have twenty suitcase nukes, they are going to step somewhat delicately just the same. I imagine they'd also try to intimidate your customers (charges of dealing with international criminals etc). That would be a big problem, maybe even harder to work around than them wanting to squish you directly.

In today's world, I guess I can't really see a company that got a hold of some nukes playing this game and succeeding. The U.S. or UN would shut them down or scare off all their customers. But in a world that was less internationally cohesive (like Arkady's, for example), maybe.

The cost to you to maintain not only nuclear weapons, but functional delivery systems, adequate safeguards, and a guarantee of availability upon demand is certainly not much less than the cost to a small government - and yet you expect not just to cover expenses, but to make money?

This I'm not so sure about. What are the upkeep costs of 20 suitcase nukes? I don't actually know, but once you've got them, I don't imagine it would be that high. You don't have to have ballistic missiles behind your bombs, just a credible claim of nuclear delivery. Remember the dude that flew his plane into Red Square a few years back?

Remember that you can't use the same weapons in multiple contracts; nuclear war will tend to proliferate, and you must have adequate weapons on hand to satisfy all your contracts at once in order to be credible.

I think you're wrong here. If nukes are flying every which way, deterrence has already failed. What you'd be selling is disincentive against the throwing of the first nuke.

Banks routinely loan out more money that they have in deposits. The same principle applies here. As long as the system is working, promising more than you can actually deliver in a worst case scenario isn't a problem.

I'm curious why you say nuclear war will tend to proliferate. Did I miss a couple that we had recently?

There is serious question as to whether anyone working for a corporation that is otherwise uninvolved in some regional conflict would actually be willing to press a button labelled "incinerate half a million people." Corporations can do evil things, but generally not quite so transparently - because by and large, people are not evil. If you can't somehow guarantee - not only to your clients, but to the rest of the world as well - that you not only can, but will push the button, you lose.

Second point first. What you are really selling is the threat of the button more than the pushing. The world doesn't have to have an iron-clad guarantee that you would push the button, just a belief that you could and _probably_ would.

As far as the ethics go, I agree that this is a pretty scary game, and in the real world anybody who really had nukes and was willing to play it would probably just sell the bombs instead and be done with it. But if you buy into the logic of nuclear deterrence ("promise that you will kill lots and lots of people to ensure you never have to actually do it"), I don't see that it's any less ethical to do it by contract than by order of your national leader. If you can find people that believe it is right to push the button in the one case, I bet you could find them in the other.

You would need many launch locations, each continually armed and ready, spread around the globe . . .

Nah, you wouldn't be selling missile defense, just nuclear delivery, method unspecified.

Credible nuclear deterrence is a lot harder than just having a few nukes, which is why it has historically been so mind numbingly expensive.

Hmmm. I would have said that the costs of building the nuke in the first place was the bottleneck. I really don't know that much about it, but my impression is that Pakistan's nuclear deterrence is basically "just a few nukes". What more is there to the picture between Pakistan and India?

Matt



[ Parent ]
The 'mercenary dillema' (none / 0) (#82)
by weirdling on Fri Jan 04, 2002 at 10:26:33 PM EST

So, what happens when you have a fight between two of your clients?

The only way I think this would really work is if the mercenary company took on a role of arbitrage backed up by nukes. In other words, any country that buys into the plan has a place for redress of grievance and guaranteed inviolate borders.

Otherwise, the nature of nuclear war is one of tending to destroy one's clientelle, which is not a good prospect...

I'm not doing this again; last time no one believed it.
[ Parent ]
2 possibilities: (none / 0) (#90)
by Canimal on Tue Jan 08, 2002 at 12:41:46 AM EST

1. Your contracts specify "we will retailate thus and so under conditions X, Y, Z." Obviously your customers will publicize those conditions. If one of your other customers is dumb enough to do X, you carry out your contract. Maybe you give a reminder to any customers of yours you see gearing up to do X.

2. Don't write any contracts with countries that might get into conflicts with your existing customers. Probably not workable as a long-term policy.

IMO setting yourself up as an arbitrator is probably not a good idea, unless you have some reason to think you are going to be really good at arbitrating international disputes as well as marketing nuclear threats. You are still going to have to decide what to do if one of your customers says "fuck you" to arbitration. If they are going to say "fuck you" to the threat of nuclear retaliation, I bet they are not going to play along with arbitration either.

Matt



[ Parent ]
Nah (none / 0) (#88)
by trhurler on Mon Jan 07, 2002 at 11:39:37 AM EST

If you're extranational, you've got a very small base of operations, or a very small number of such small bases. As soon as some government that doesn't like you finds out where those bases are, they'll disappear in a hail of military might such as the world has never seen. This is why you need many hidden distributed launch points.

The upkeep costs of suitcase nukes? First off, suitcase nukes, if they actually exist at all(they supposedly do, at least in the Russian arsenal, but there's no publicly available good evidence of that,) are very low yield. You can't do strategic deterrence with them, because any government that was going to carry out a nuclear strike against an enemy would be aiming to cripple him in one fell swoop; he may well be willing to accept a few hundred thousand dead on his own side to do that, and you can't expect to do more with such weapons as these. Second, even just safely storing nukes of any kind is expensive. Maintaining them is another thing entirely, and not as cheap as you'd think; they can't just sit on a shelf forever and still be useful and safe for those who use them.

You're selling deterrence. After a nuclear strike, you plan to fly a plane into the attacking country and then set off a nuke? I hope your pilots are trained by Osama bin Laden, because nobody else would be stupid enough to try that.

Nuclear war tends to proliferate, yes. We have not had a nuclear war. If it happens, it will quickly become a full scale mess. That's WHY it has never happened. As for overselling your capacity, proliferation is why it won't work. Customers won't pay for deterrence without assurance that if it fails, the enemy is going to get nuked.

Pakistan has "a few nukes," yes. They already have them spread around the country at numerous sites to make them harder to destroy, they've got a huge security and fire control apparatus in place, and they're working on better and better early warning systems all the time. This stuff is horrendously expensive, even if the nukes themselves really aren't, which is why previously only big kids like the US and former USSR could play.

Finally, a word about "the will to push the button." In the military, if you take that job and don't do it, someone will shoot you in the head - and he has the legal right and obligation to do so, because if he doesn't, someone else will shoot him instead, and so on. The chain of command is much larger than any one man or group of friends or even acquaintances, and for that reason alone, it works. Your company will not have that advantage. You will always run the risk that those committed to the task will collude to not do it.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Minor nit (none / 0) (#73)
by cpt kangarooski on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 06:43:53 PM EST

Actually, although it's pretty unusual, it's certainly possible to consent via silence or inaction.

If there was a prior arrangement for example, where silence was an allowed method of assent, it would stand. Or in a situation where it is customary and reasonable to expect silence to constitute assent.

Naturally, something like the Monty Python example wouldn't qualify, nor should it. But there is room for this sort of thing from time to time.

--
All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.

prior arrangement (none / 0) (#78)
by Arkady on Thu Jan 03, 2002 at 08:47:53 PM EST

Thank you. That is reasonable, and it would have made sense to add that caveat in the article.

I can't think of any situation in which it would be reasonable to accept silence as consent _without_ a prior arrangement, though.

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
The Magic Pogo Stick Of Authority (none / 0) (#84)
by Scrymarch on Sat Jan 05, 2002 at 06:07:46 PM EST

So you can spot power with ease, it permeates your world; and yet you worry about the legitimacy of that power. Why is it there? How is it invested with Authority?

It is suggestive, to me, that you find it in a Latin dictionary but not the proudest and oldest continuous democracy on Earth, or the responsibility of a parent towards a child. You present it as an abstruse and distant concept, either on or off, and available only on the Internet or in the distant past. Authority as described above is a rare and special object; a magic pogo stick to be found only for a moment and then lost.

The legitimacy of government is, like health, literacy, weighted median incomes, or rainfall, a continuous property, which can improve with stewardship or recede with neglect. It derives, as you say, from the consent of the governed, but the more consent there is, the more legitimacy there is. Unanimous decisions are the most legitimate, but intermediate stages aren't illegitimate, just intermediate. Age is a factor here, in that it reflects a certain level of consent over time, and if our forbears are respected, so is their consent, even if with respectful disagreement.

More damningly, you ignore a key aspect of government in successful democracies - consent to the system as a whole, including the prospect of decisions personally disagreed with. How many people in the US voted for George Bush? How many accept him as the legitimate leader of the country? That proportion is a good approximation to the legitimacy of the US government, and it is reaffirmed by widespread consent every time a Libertarian Party candidate is defeated. Rusty raised this below, but I would strengthen his assertion - every democratic election is a ballot on consent, because you can always vote for a more separatist candidate - in the extreme, yourself.

The belief in individual power behind libertarian thinking in general is a wonderful and important idea. This article has started some interesting discussion, but it rests ultimately on a fairly thin repitition of the nihilist belief that all political institutions are a fraud.


gradient (none / 0) (#85)
by Arkady on Sun Jan 06, 2002 at 02:41:19 PM EST

The concept of legitimacy as a gradient may be a useful one (it's certainly an interesting idea which hadn't occurred to me) but only as applied to society as a whole, not to an individual. For example, I myself do not (and would not) give my consent to the American corporatist State. As applied to me, therefore, it must register 0%. As applied to the populace of the city in which I live, the percentage would then be what, an average of the percentages for each of the inhabitants?

As for the 2000 presidential election, the FEC has the rough data online here. To summarize, approximately 51.3% of the voting age population turned out nationwide. The FEC has the results data here. On that chart, Bush receives about 47.87% of the vote; this gives Bush a mandate of 25.55% of the voting age population. Of course, though calculating these numbers is amusing, it's not a real measure of legitimacy (though in the absence of any better data, it's probably the closest approximation you can get).

I have no idea how you got nihilism out of the article (nor why you think nihilism, the advocation of resignation and futility, is connected to the discussion of State Authority). ;-)

-robin


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
Gradient a go-go (none / 0) (#87)
by Scrymarch on Mon Jan 07, 2002 at 08:42:04 AM EST

The concept of legitimacy as a gradient may be a useful one (it's certainly an interesting idea which hadn't occurred to me) but only as applied to society as a whole, not to an individual. For example, I myself do not (and would not) give my consent to the American corporatist State. As applied to me, therefore, it must register 0%. As applied to the populace of the city in which I live, the percentage would then be what, an average of the percentages for each of the inhabitants?

I would say there are at least two factors in the legitimacy of a government - consent of the people, and the well-being of the people.

As to 0% consent to the US government, that's quite a low amount. Would no feature of it be part of your preferred government? That's a better metric.

As for the 2000 presidential election, the FEC has the rough data online here. To summarize, approximately 51.3% of the voting age population turned out nationwide. The FEC has the results data here. On that chart, Bush receives about 47.87% of the vote; this gives Bush a mandate of 25.55% of the voting age population. Of course, though calculating these numbers is amusing, it's not a real measure of legitimacy (though in the absence of any better data, it's probably the closest approximation you can get).

There was no intimidation or violence involved in keeping people from voting. The ~49% of people who couldn't be bothered voting represent a vote of confidence in the system to serve their needs. Of the people that voted, Democrat + Republican votes made up around 96%. The remainder that voted for radical change is less than 2% of the voting age population.

It's not a good measure, and it would be better shown in a preferential voting system, where no votes are wasted. But I'd say 98% legitimate is a fair approximation. As a reference point, minor parties score about 10% of the vote in Australia, but those that support a major change of government, like the Natural Law Party, get negligible amounts.

I have no idea how you got nihilism out of the article (nor why you think nihilism, the advocation of resignation and futility, is connected to the discussion of State Authority). ;-)

:)

Nihilism is overstating it, I suppose. It was a reaction to describing as a fraud an achievement as historically rare and impressive as a working representative democracy. You seemed to be saying working with this achievement was futile.

[ Parent ]

no-confidence (none / 0) (#89)
by Arkady on Mon Jan 07, 2002 at 03:50:25 PM EST

The 49% non-voters can just as reasonably (more reasonably, in my opinion) be considered to be votes of no-confidence in the system itself. After all, if you have no-confidence that voting for any of those wankers will actually achieve anything useful, there's no point in voting. ;-)

With that interpretation, you'd have a 51% vote of confidence in favor of the system (at a minimum, to vote is to express _some_ confidence that voting can actually achieve something). That's _really_ bad; extending the current decrease in turnout, it's reasonable to expect that to drop below 50% by the presidential election of 2004 or 2008 (it's already below 50% in all non-presidential elections).

At that point, you have a voting age majority expressing no-confidence; what do you do then?

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
confidence (none / 0) (#91)
by Scrymarch on Tue Jan 08, 2002 at 08:42:31 AM EST

The 49% non-voters can just as reasonably (more reasonably, in my opinion) be considered to be votes of no-confidence in the system itself. After all, if you have no-confidence that voting for any of those wankers will actually achieve anything useful, there's no point in voting. ;-)

Some of the votes are going to be virtual no-confidence votes. I suppose a proportion of invalid votes fit this category. I'd contend that most are rich country apathy. Apathy involves a degree of disillusionment, but on the balance it's passive consent. Consider person A and person B:

Person A: I'm going to take $100 out of your wallet.
Person B: Whatever. Have you seen the TV guide?

Furthermore, if people are quizzed on why they don't vote, they're likely to save face by giving a noble reason - "In protest of the suppression of Guam!" rather than the truth - "I was hungover".

With that interpretation, you'd have a 51% vote of confidence in favor of the system (at a minimum, to vote is to express _some_ confidence that voting can actually achieve something). That's _really_ bad; extending the current decrease in turnout, it's reasonable to expect that to drop below 50% by the presidential election of 2004 or 2008 (it's already below 50% in all non-presidential elections).

At that point, you have a voting age majority expressing no-confidence; what do you do then?

Again, I'd count some of the voters to your side - votes for some parties do count as votes for a radical reorganisation of government. If the voting turnout goes below 50%, that's not a happy situation, but it is the will of the people. It's a pre-parliament of sorts; the voters are elected by being bothered, and the sitting members are elected by them.

[ Parent ]

On Power And Authority | 91 comments (64 topical, 27 editorial, 0 hidden)
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