Democracy and Coercion

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James Hanley

James Hanley is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.

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  1. Avatar North
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    Hmmm I think that’s pretty persuasive Prof. Democracies are coercive; as are all states to varrying degrees.

    Now I would submit that Democracies are probably the least coercive of the various flavors of states and that additionally if you presume no state at all then there is no such thing as legitimate force. In that case, of course, illegitimate force rushes to fill the void and the only rules or laws that would then surround force would be the rules of physics and nature. Not a desirable outcome from my vantage point.Report

    • Avatar Citizen in reply to North
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      says:

      “illegitimate force rushes to fill the void and the only rules or laws that would then surround force would be the rules of physics and nature. Not a desirable outcome from my vantage point.”

      The glue that Kolohe mentioned recently serves as back pressure against this sort of thing. In the end it doesn’t matter, when the glue is gone even bad gets broken.Report

  2. Avatar Saul DeGraw
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    says:

    Thought provoking post, professor.

    The problem with the term coercion is that it is a very strong word. When the lay person hears about someone doing something under coercion the image that comes to mind is the gun pointing at their back or the scenes in The Friends of Eddie Coyle when bank presidents helped robbers because their family was being held hostage at home.

    There are going to be plenty of times when people feel like they are being coerced in this way by laws and government action and the will and desire of the majority but just because they feel coerced or are being coerced does not necessarily make that coercion wrong. Suppose an employer did not want to make a reasonable accommodation for a wheelchair bound employee, not because of expense but because of an animus towards the physically disabled and/or extreme laziness. Is he or she being coerced by the ADA and the spectre of courts fines and law suits to do something? Yes. Does this mean the coercion is wrong in this case? Not in my mind.

    The other issue is that too many veto points can allow a minority to stymie the will of the majority. I was just reading about the current coup in Thailand and how the country is divided into a rural majority and urban minority. The rural majority constantly wins elections. The urban minority still controls via judicial and military coups from time to time. There are examples of this from US history as well like Lochner, the original spate of anti-New Deal cases, and the amount of defending Obamacare needed (the the Obamacare foes were eventually defeated.)

    So for me the argument is not whether democracy can be coercive. The issue is figuring out when a minority should be protected from a tyranny of a majority and how much veto power a minority/opposition power should have and in some ways there are too many veto point in American politics. Minorities (in all senses of the word) should have some veto power and succeed but they shouldn’t be able to stifle the will of the majority to a frustrating level unless we are to basically give up on Democracy.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Saul DeGraw
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      says:

      Ohh nice reference of great old movie. Friends of EC is real gut punch of a movie.

      I agree with this and James’s post in general. I think where the coercion argument goes south, as you suggest, is people use it as a universal trump card against any policy they don’t like. Definitely minorities need protection but that doesn’t mean any policy that has majority support is illegitimate.Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to Saul DeGraw
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      says:

      Minorities (in all senses of the word) should have some veto power and succeed but they shouldn’t be able to stifle the will of the majority to a frustrating level unless we are to basically give up on Democracy.

      Actually there is a very easy way to have a successful democracy that maximizes the freedom of minorities to both veto and to dissent: ask the government to do less.

      The more you ask the government to do, the more the government will have to use coercive means on dissenters. That’s pretty much why folks like me are not big fans of asking the government to do lots more.

      Alternately, you can ask the government to do more, but give people the option of opting out. Those sorts of solutions don’t appear to be very popular.Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to j r
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        says:

        @j-r , when you take power out of the hands of the government, it’s rare that much of that power falls to a minority.

        After all, what’s a lynch mob if not the government ceding power to private citizens? Indeed, while there were Jim Crow laws, the most widespread and successful mechanisms of segregation were private community organizations and private businesses.

        I’m not meaning to suggests that government institutions always do a better job. But stripping the government of power is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for expanding freedom.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to j r
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        says:

        Alan,
        conversely, most of the tenfold disparity in wealth between blacks and whites is because of government supported racism. Simply removing the gov’ts ability to continue to be racist isn’t/hasn’t going to fix that disparity very fast.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Saul DeGraw
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      says:

      Other than that I’m soft on Lochner, I’m very much in agreement, counselor.Report

    • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Saul DeGraw
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      says:

      @saul-degraw

      Have you read this post from Bleeding Heart Libertarians? I think you’ll find it close to your views about how some people use “coercion” too much: http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/02/on-passing-laws-and-pointing-guns/

      Concerning anti-New Deal cases, I think it depends on the cases. The NRA was a horrible policy that basically favored a select number of entrenched business interests and empowered the president to make rules having in many ways the force of law. And keep in mind that the principal decision was less concerned about liberty of contract than it was about the lawmaking authority the law assigned to the president. I think you can argue that by the time the law was set to expire, the NRA had few supporters inside or outside FDR’s orbit.Report

  3. Avatar j r
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    says:

    It is pretty self-evident that democracy is coercive. All forms of government are coercive, as Weber outlines. You can make a very convincing argument that democracy is one of the least coercive forms of government to ever exist (and I would agree with you), but it is still coercive.

    There is a strain of thought, perhaps best embodied by Rousseau and his concept of the general will, that posits that a government that is in tune with the will of its subjects can not be coercive, because such a government is the spontaneous embodiment of the people and therefore cannot exist in any sort of form of alienation against the people; therefore it is not coercive. That is a very difficult conception to defend, but I’m open to seeing someone try.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to j r
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      says:

      I had written about Rousseau, as one of the possible lines of argument LWA could attempt in defense of his position. Then I excised it to keep focus and keep from rambling on too terribly long. Happy to see you bring it up, though.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to j r
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      says:

      @j-r

      It seems to me the Rousseauean argument fall victim to the Fallacy of Aggregation – there is no “the people” there are only people. Some of them are bound to be alienated by any democratic decision.Report

  4. Avatar zic
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    says:

    Democracy may be coercive, but it’s lack allows other forms of coercion that are, on the whole, far less desirable. Particularly if you’re female, or so history shows.

    And for my part, I think much of the coercion comes from the balancing of rights when they come into conflict and the upholding of the rule of law. So I’m not certain that I view coercion in a negative light, most particularly in this regard.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to zic
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      says:

      Please note that I made no effort to suggest that coercion, particularly in a democracy, was always bad. I only argue that it remains coercion, even when it’s justified. If I have to physically restrain someone to keep them from harming someone else, it’s a legitimate act of coercion, of physical force, and it adds nothing to our understanding of it to pretend that it’s not in fact coercion.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        Here’s the legal definition, which I link to because of the list of synonyms; the meaning you’re implying is absolutely absent from this definition:

        blackmail, bondage, brute force, command, compulsion, constraint, constraint by force, control, dictation, duress, exaction, exigency, force, forcing, illegal compulsion, impelling, insistence, intimidation, moral compulsion, necessity, negative compulsion, oppression, oppressive exaction, pressure, prevailing, prohibition, repression, strong arm tactics, threat, undue influence, unlawful compulsion

        So you are evoking these meanings; and it’s a pretty unflattering way to describe democracy.

        Miriam Webster’s list of synonyms:
        arm-twisting, force, compulsion, constraint, duress, pressure
        And related words:

        browbeating, bulldozing, bullying; fear, intimidation, menace, sword, terror, terrorism, threat, violence; squeeze, squeeze play; might, muscle, potency, puissance, strength; hardheadedness, self-will, willfulness; strain, stress

        It’s not until we get at the near-antonyms from Miriam Webster that I see an opposite of what how you’re using coercion:

        agreement, approval, consent, permission; convincing, persuasion, reason, suasion

        So while the specific usage might be correct, the nuanced meaning implies negative context, not matter if you mean to apply negative context.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        zic,

        I’m talking about political theory. A legal definition means diddly in that context.

        You’re 100% wrong in saying that I’m trying to make democracy look bad. That’s real spin on your part.

        Try arguing with Weber, et. al., instead of me. I’m just the messenger here.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        it’s a pretty unflattering way to describe democracy.

        Let me put it this way, zic. I’m only describing a part of democracy. If you saw it as a complete description of democracy, that’s all on you.

        And if you start from the position that it’s wrong to say anything unflattering about democracy, then you’re saying that we should work from a biased position. The same, of course, would be true if we started from the position that it was wrong to say anything flattering about democracy. But I’m not working from either of those biased positions. I’m just pointing out the empirical reality that democracies must use force–legitimately–to enforce their policies (and how is legitimate force a pejorative, pray tell?), and that they sometimes use illegitimate force.

        But if you want to complain about saying anything unflattering about democracy, then I await your praise for the voters of California and their good decision to ban same-sex marriage. If you critique it, you’re not being flattering to democracy.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        Okay, so we’ll go to political theory, and Charles Tilley, who suggests “subjugation of rival centers of coercive capacity.”

        But for this meaning to communicate clearly, the coercion has an object, it’s not just a descriptor of the state, it’s the state acting in a specific capacity.

        I’m not trying to disagree with you, James, but to point out that you (or political theory or Webster or Tilley or Hobbes or Machiavelli) are using a very narrow definition of a word in specific context that brings a tremendous amount of baggage with it. If you, in specific, want to communicate clearly, you need to consider that baggage in a meaningful way.

        But I suspect you already knew this. The problem is the amount of wiggle room, no? The standard of trying to speak to multitudes of meanings without taking responsibility for what’s actually comprehended by various readers?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        Zic, I couldn’t disagree more. It looks to me like you’re trying to delegitimate the argument by quibbling about how you perceive the word, rather than make a substantive critique.

        Sometimes the reader has a responsibility to understand how the writer is using the word. If you can’t accept that responsibility, you’re free to stop reading.

        You chose a convenient definition of coercion that suited your desire to attack the word. How about I just throw a regular dictionary definition at you?

        “1. to compel by force, intimidation, or authority, especially without regard for individual desire or volition”
        “2. to bring about through the use of force or other forms of compulsion; exact: to coerce obedience.”

        First two definitions in the first dictionary I clicked on. To compel by force or authority, compulsion. Tell me, zic, how a democratic government does not do those things.

        Sorry if I seem testy, but I find your argument entirely insubstantive, based only on the fact that a word that is technically correct also brings some other connotations to your mind.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        I’m sorry you think I’m being difficult James, I truly am.

        I’ve been through this dance with editors numbers of times.

        The use you’re suggesting is legitimate, and I’ve already said that. It also carries the baggage. And it creates a lot of room for miscommunication. If your use is purely in the realm of political theory, it rises to the level of jargon.

        There are better ways to communicate the very same things: enforcement would be my choice.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        zic,

        I’m going to be blunt. In your attempt to play editor of my word choice, you obviously read incautiously, because you fail to notice that I was working off the term LWA used. Had he used enforcement, I would have used enforcement. But he didn’t, he used coercion. It wouldn’t have made a hell of a lot of sense for me to respond to his word by not using his word, would it?

        And as to the baggage, sometimes its important to point out that despite all the baggage, a word has a meaning that particularly matters. If a person wants to rely on that baggage to claim that democracy is not coercion, it’s perfectly legitimate to point out that the word–as you agree–technically does have a meaning that falsifies that claim. That at the very least, it’s LWA who needs to adjust his word choice, rather than me, because he’s not technically correct.

        I’ve worked with editors, thank you very much, and a good editor pays close attention to the substance and context. If you want to play at being my editor, you’ll only find me pleasant to work with if you do so as well.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        zic,
        yeah, the baggage is LWA’s fault — or if you must, his impression of libertarians.
        James is explaining (I hope) how a phrase that LWA has run across is actually part of mainstream Political Theory.
        (also note: not sure deToqueville was writing in English. his word choice may come with different baggage. Ditto Weber).Report

      • Avatar Plinko in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        The word may have baggage (and, I’m not sure it really does in wide understanding), but this isn’t a strained metaphor, it’s what it is. Obamacare = fascism, this ain’t.

        If not coercion, what word could be substituted that works?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        the baggage is LWA’s fault

        No, the baggage that gets associated with any particular word can only rarely be attributed to a single person. Any baggage associated with the word is far beyond LWA’s control, or the control of any other person, so he can’t be faulted for that.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        @james-hanley — Fair enough. But why not use the word “enforcement,” which carries all the factual meaning without the negative connotations?

        Seems like a win for clarity.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to zic
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      says:

      As I said to zic, because I was responding to the word LWA used, and it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to respond to the word he used by using a different word than he used.Report

  5. Avatar Patrick
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    says:

    Okay, I’ll link to this again.

    Remember that recent post about sticky words?

    “Coercion” is a sticky word.

    (I’d argue unnecessarily pejorative, but pejorative it is).

    Usually, when someone who is liberal is reading a libertarian writing about coercion, they’re reading the libertarian as including the pejorative connotation, “coercion is necessarily bad”… which, to be fair, is a pretty common connotation when libertarians use the word “coercion”.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Patrick
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      says:

      Coercion isn’t necessarily bad. That’s why I began with Weber and his emphasis on legitimate use of physical force.

      But let’s not kid ourselves that democracies don’t use coercion both legitimately and illegitimately. Prop 8 in California was fully a democratic act; they had a free and fair election in which the 3-5% or so of Californians who were gay got to be duly outvoted. The coercive effects on same-sex couples…well, if anyone here wants to argue for their legitimacy, be my guest, because I won’t.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Patrick
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      says:

      @patrick

      Agreed. However, I think everyone here is smart enough to discern context. Part of un-sticking words is on the reader to take a step back & make sure that their initial reaction to a word is fair, given the context of usage.Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to Patrick
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      says:

      Sometimes you use a sticky word for a reason. I’m not an anarchist or doctrinaire libertarian, but I think that anarchists and doctrinaire libertarians have many valid critiques of democracy and of the state. I just don’t think that their alternative is better. However, pointing out that the state is an inherently coercive institution is the whole point of the critique.

      Citizens form states and grant the state a monopoly on the legitimate use of force as a form of least worst alternative. It’s important to remember that. Really terrible things happen when people forget and start to see the state as the incontrovertible embodiment of the popular will.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to j r
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        says:

        But once we agree that democracies are coercive but that can also be legitimate and better then other options where are we at. Some people still go with the “i don’t like policy X therefore i’m being oppressed” thing which seems like nonsense. Just because some doesn’t like what the gov does doesn’t mean they are being illegitimately coerced. They might be, but just based on the gov doing something doesn’t make that argument. I get why people want less gov in some situations and i even agree sometimes. But the nature of democracy is that sometimes we/you/us don’t get what we want. That isn’t inherently illegitimate. Coercion is a bit of sticky word which does cloud that. Or really its more often used as a self-righteous proclamation of suffering to claim the argumentative moral high ground. .Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to j r
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        says:

        where are we at.

        We’re at a refutation of LWA’s fallacious belief that only a libertarian whackjob could believe democracy is coercive. And that is all I was arguing. Everybody seems to think there must be something more to the argument, but that’s it; there’s nothing but a refutation of an empirical error, at least in my post.

        Please, everyone, don’t try reading anything more into this.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to j r
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        says:

        LWA’s point was weak so that was easy target for you. I agree democracies are coercive as is any government even in the best case. You are using the C word in an accurate and precise manner which isn’t how it seems to be deployed mostly.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to j r
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        says:

        LWA’s point was weak so that was easy target for you.

        Bingo.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to j r
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        @j-r

        It’s a trivial critique because property is coercive as well. What they are trying to do is elide the distinction between the mere use of force and the illegitimate use of force in a question begging manner.Report

    • Avatar Herb in reply to Patrick
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      says:

      I think you’re onto something here. In our normal day to day, a liberal is more likely to encounter someone like (fictional) Hit and Run commenter Nozickfan44, bearer of infantile arguments, than say…James Madison.

      I’ve been assured, of course, that folks like Nozickfan44 are not representative of the good and true libertarians.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Herb
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        says:

        To be fair, neither is James Madison.

        (or at least, no libertarian I know wants to invade Canada)Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Herb
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        says:

        You would do well to look at the average adherent of your preferred ideology before you start drawing inferences from the average libertarian.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Herb
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        says:

        @herb,

        Should I take the dumbest people at Balloon Juice as representative of good and true liberals?Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Herb
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        says:

        I read the BHL site. The avg commenter uses coercion in the less sophisticated manner and some are very prone to the “tax=slavery” argument. It’s quite an echo chamber over there with more than few accusations of people being LINO’s.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Herb
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        says:

        There’s a reason I spend my time here, rather than there. Echo chambers either bring out the worst in people, or they just weed out the people who aren’t the worst.

        Methodologically speaking, they are biased samples, and should be assumed to be non-representative of the group as a whole.

        I would apply that analysis regardless of whether we’re talking about a libertarian site, a liberal one, or a conservative one. And it seems to me there’s a particular type of person who treats the biased sample as accurately representing the group as a whole–whether it’s liberals looking at conservatives or libertarians, or libertarians or conservatives looking at liberals, the person who does that tends to be thoughtless and overly ideological.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Herb
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        says:

        no libertarian I know wants to invade Canada

        I always thought Sheriff Bud Boomer seemed like a libertarian.

        Anyway, I think the standards in these sorts of conversations are inevitably double, on all sides, if we start talking about the invisible LIBERTARIAN or the invisible LIBERAL or the invisible CONSERVATIVE, that is, the bulk of the self-proclaimed or easily recognizable versions of any of those, because the bulk of everyone, of every political stripe, is not going to be particularly well-read, or particularly aware of alternative world views, or particularly sophisticated in his or her reasoning and beliefs, making it really easy to attribute stupidity to virtually any group*. If you want to talk about ideas, though, it seems utterly unreasonable to talk about the ideas of most of the world when you’re talking to someone who doesn’t, at least on these dimensions, belong in that group. I don’t mean to imply that everyone here is somehow better than everyone not here, just that the fact that people are here, and are commenting, and in particular are having these discussions, likely means that they’re more well-read, more aware, and have spent more time thinking about these things than your average libertarian, liberal, or conservative. So you might as well try to talk about their ideas, and to the extent that you are not aware of them, you should ask about their ideas. Or better still, just talk about yours, and let them bring theirs out in response, at which point you can critique and exchange all you want without waving your arms at abstractions.

        *Libertarians, at least, benefit from the fact that their representatives, such as they are, are not politicians vying for votes, who therefore have to play down to those not particularly well-read, not particularly aware, and not particularly sophisticated people in very public ways. They just have to write popular blogs for them.)Report

      • Avatar Herb in reply to Herb
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        says:

        Brandon, if I were to look at the “average adherent” of liberalism, what do you expect me to find? This is what I expect: Because of the larger sample size, the average would be much less representative of the whole.

        James, If you were looking for a representative of the “good and true liberal,” why would you look to Balloon Juice?

        Also, methodologically speaking, I do assume that the sophisticated libertarians at OT are non-representative of the whole. I also assume that the “vulgar libertarianism” that animates the movement is not a product of the liberal imagination.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Herb
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        says:

        Because of the larger sample size, the average would be much less representative of the whole.

        I think you mean larger population, not sample size. And population size does not affect how representative the average is; the diversity (variance) within the population does.

        James, If you were looking for a representative of the “good and true liberal,” why would you look to Balloon Juice?
        If someone’s looking for a representative of the good and true libertarian, why would they go to an echo chamber libertarian site?

        Also, methodologically speaking, I do assume that the sophisticated libertarians at OT are non-representative of the whole.
        The sophisticated people in any group are generally not representative of the whole. But neither are the least sophisticated, right? (Or else we’re back to Ballon Juicers being the true representatives of liberalism.)

        All I’m really asking for is the golden rule. Don’t use means to define other ideological groups that you would object to them using to define your group. If you would object to libertarians here at the OT defining liberals by the troglodytes of a liberal echo chamber, then don’t define libertarians by the troglodytes of a libertarian echo chamber.

        For example, just recently I saw a petition at Daily Kos that they were asking people to sign, petitioning Justice Scalia to resign. And I thought, just how stupid are these people about politics? But unlike an LWA, I didn’t come back here and make blanket statement about liberals thinking they could successfully petition a SupCt justice to resign.

        That kind of do unto others as you would have them do unto you approach is all I’m asking. But it sometimes seems as though a handful of folks here think that’s too much to ask.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Herb
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        says:

        James,
        I can’t help but think that such a petition must surely be more self-regarding than actually fueled by hopeless optimism. (as such, it provides a vehicle for defusing anger…)Report

      • Avatar Herb in reply to Herb
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        says:

        “I think you mean larger population, not sample size. And population size does not affect how representative the average is”

        Well, I did kind of mean sample size, knowing the population size would be larger, but now that you mention it, I can see how that’s not very precise.

        “If someone’s looking for a representative of the good and true libertarian, why would they go to an echo chamber libertarian site?”

        To be fair….that’s the wrong question to ask. If one goes to an echo chamber libertarian site and thinks they have found the perfect representative of “the good and true libertarian,” they might find themselves in error.

        But if one goes to an echo chamber libertarian site, this is what they will see: libertarians making libertarian arguments in a libertarian echo chamber.

        See, I’m not going to deny that Balloon Juice is typical of a certain kind of liberal. If it’s not obvious, it’s at least observable.

        But I have heard, time after time, that the “typical” arguments we hear from a certain kind of libertarian definitely, at no point, under no circumstance, has anything remotely to do with “Good and True Libertarianism,” despite these views being fairly common in libertarian echo chambers.

        In other words, “vulgar libertarianism” is not a “caricature” of some purer, more sophisticated libertarianism. It’s a common form of libertarianism in and of itself.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Herb
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        says:

        the bulk of the self-proclaimed or easily recognizable versions of any of those

        vulgar libertarianism

        I think it is important to keep in mind that there is quite a bit of confirmation bias going on when dealing with ideologies not your own. If you don’t particularly like libertarian thought, you will understandably be drawn to examples that confirm your bias and give you that little emotional kick.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Herb
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        says:

        @herb
        Well, I did kind of mean sample size, knowing the population size would be larger, but now that you mention it, I can see how that’s not very precise.

        Not just imprecise, but–sorry to have to say this–wrong. All else being equal, a larger sample size will actually be more representative of the population (up to a point; there are diminishing returns as sample size increases).

        But I have heard, time after time, that the “typical” arguments we hear from a certain kind of libertarian definitely, at no point, under no circumstance, has anything remotely to do with “Good and True Libertarianism,” despite these views being fairly common in libertarian echo chambers.

        No, I think that’s a mis-statement. All that’s being said is that it’s not definitive of libertarianism–that libertarianism also contains other types. The problem is never when someone says “some libertarians think X.” The problem is that people–including several OT regulars–say “somelibertarians think X.” Which is exactly equivalent to me saying “some liberals think Hugo Chavez was great.”

        Do you see that distinction? It’s critical. (And can we drop that “good and true” stuff? That’s a phrase that you’re attributing to us, not one that I’ve ever seen a libertarian here say.)

        In other words, “vulgar libertarianism” is not a “caricature” of some purer, more sophisticated libertarianism. It’s a common form of libertarianism in and of itself.

        And nobody here, I argue, has denied it. Again, the problem is not in pointing out that those libertarians exist. The problem is using them as a proxy for all libertarians.

        They exist. I despise them. They despise me. Dave and I had an email exchange once in which he wryly commented about how that type yells at him for not being a true libertarian. I don’t think you can find a single comment here where any libertarian has denied the existence of those people. All I’m asking is that liberals who want to talk about libertarians here not be assholes and use those people to define us.

        Do you get what I’m saying?Report

      • Avatar Herb in reply to Herb
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        says:

        James,

        I have to be honest, I’m over here asking myself: Why bother?

        You say:

        “Again, the problem is not in pointing out that those libertarians exist. The problem is using them as a proxy for all libertarians.”

        I see, so the problem is that liberals are using those libertarians as a proxy for….all libertarians.

        Sorry, but that’s not actually the problem. The problem is that the “sophisticated” libertarians would prefer to see themselves as a proxy for “all” libertarians, when they are, to be blunt about it, clearly not.

        And hey….I get it. I used to think of myself as a libertarian. But then I kept being lumped in with all these awful people. Doubt crept in. I didn’t think to myself: “I’m a better libertarian than ‘those’ libertarians.”

        I thought: “Well maybe I’m not a libertarian after all.”Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Herb
        Ignored
        says:

        Yes, Herb, liberals have tried that line on me before. I should either just switch to calling myself a liberal (despite the shit I take from liberals for my pro-market, anti-regulatory positions, so, wtf?), or define a new political ideology (which would just have me spending my time explaining why a pro-market, anti-regulatory, pro-civil liberties, anti-war ideology isn’t, after all, just libertarianism, so, wtf?).

        It’s a very convenient argument for liberals to make, of course, because if the advice were followed it would help narrow the field of libertarians down to those they currently want to pretend are the sum total of libertarianism. It would help their false claims to become true ones, so they could claim that they’d know all along it was really true. It’s just too self-serving to be accepted as well-intentioned advice.

        Also, it smacks of someone saying “why don’t you change what you are, so I don’t have to bother being less ideological and more intellectually honest?”

        So, no, thanks.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Herb
        Ignored
        says:

        Sorry, but that’s not actually the problem. The problem is that the “sophisticated” libertarians would prefer to see themselves as a proxy for “all” libertarians, when they are, to be blunt about it, clearly not.

        Not as a proxy for all libertarians. As the definition of libertarianism. The merit of an idea is determined by the best arguments for it, not by the worst.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Herb
        Ignored
        says:

        I should either just switch to calling myself a liberal (despite the shit I take from liberals for my pro-market, anti-regulatory positions, so, wtf?)

        There’s some merit to this. After all, we are more liberal than “liberals” and more progressive than “progressives.”Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Herb
        Ignored
        says:

        Let’s call it Bergianism, and make you famous.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Herb
        Ignored
        says:

        @james-hanley

        Bergianism??? Try Murality on for size.Report

      • Avatar Herb in reply to Herb
        Ignored
        says:

        “Also, it smacks of someone saying “why don’t you change what you are, so I don’t have to bother being less ideological and more intellectually honest?””

        James, you don’t have to change who you are. Indeed, if there were more thoughtful libertarians like yourself, libertarianism would have a better reputation.

        What would be nice, though, if the thoughtful libertarians would stop pretending that the dumb libertarian stuff doesn’t exist. It does. It’s what a lot of people think of when they think of “libertarianism.” It’s what a lot of people are responding to when they offer critiques of “libertarianism.”Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Herb
        Ignored
        says:

        What would be nice, though, if the thoughtful libertarians would stop pretending that the dumb libertarian stuff doesn’t exist.

        Already on this page I’ve pointed out that this is false.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Herb
        Ignored
        says:

        @herb You say this as if it were a property peculiar to libertarianism, which is ridiculous. The majority of adherents to just about any ideology subscribe to that ideology for stupid or ignoble reasons. When it comes to politics, people just aren’t that smart.

        Comparatively speaking, libertarianism comes out smelling like a rose when you apply the same standard to conservatism and leftism.Report

      • Avatar Herb in reply to Herb
        Ignored
        says:

        “Already on this page I’ve pointed out that this is false.”

        If that were so, why is there such defensiveness when the “dumb libertarian” stuff is challenged by liberals?

        “Comparatively speaking, libertarianism comes out smelling like a rose when you apply the same standard to conservatism and leftism.”

        Brandon, I gotta be honest. I’m not much into conservatism or leftism. When it comes to ideology these days, it seems like all the old ones no longer work and the new ones haven’t yet been formed. I don’t think I’m the only one who feels like this. The past 10-15 years have done a number on all kinds of ideologies.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Herb
        Ignored
        says:

        If that were so, why is there such defensiveness when the “dumb libertarian” stuff is challenged by liberals?

        I already explained this above, in this very subthread. It’s simple–don’t write about libertarians as though those people are definitive of all libertarianism, or of libertarianism as a whole.

        Is that really a hard concept to grasp?

        It seems really simple to me. In fact it’s the standard I apply when I write about liberals. For example, when I recently criticized a couple of liberals here for their support for rent control, I didn’t say “liberals support rent control.” Because while some–even many–liberals do, many other liberals don’t. So I attribute the idea just to those liberals who actually hold it, rather than writing in a way that implies all liberals do.

        Likewise, “some libertarians think taxes are slavery,” is right, but “libertarians think taxes are slavery” is wrong.

        That’s not hard, is it?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Herb
        Ignored
        says:

        @brandon-berg

        I agree with your first paragraph, but I don’t think you’ve provided any evidence that would persuade an objective person to believe your second paragraph.Report

      • Avatar Herb in reply to Herb
        Ignored
        says:

        “It’s simple–don’t write about libertarians as though those people are definitive of all libertarianism, or of libertarianism as a whole.”

        This seems to be a rather pedantic/semantic complaint that I’m not sure I buy.

        You really thought I was writing about “all” libertarians when I was busy distinguishing between the “good and true libertarians” from the “vulgar” ones? Hmmm……”not guilty, your honor.”

        At any rate, in the future, when I’m talking about “all libertarians” I will use the term “all libertarians” and when I’m not, I’ll use the term “some libertarians.” That should be less confusing, I hope.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Herb
        Ignored
        says:

        @herb
        You really thought I was writing about “all” libertarians when I was busy distinguishing between the “good and true libertarians” from the “vulgar” ones? Hmmm……”not guilty, your honor”

        Verdict upheld. That’s not what I intended, but the lack of clarity may have been a consequence of unclear writing on my end.

        What I meant in general–and not about you specifically (truthfully, I don’t remember you as having been one of the offenders)–is that people should not write such things as LWA did when he wrote that libertarians are agnostic about moral values because they’re utilitarian. Because it’s not generally descriptive of libertarians as a group.

        In that case, it’s reasonably descriptive of me (I’m not entirely agnostic about moral values, but I’m certainly more amoral than the average person), but it’s not descriptive of other libertarians, particular those who are natural rights libertarians.

        But, no, I’m not quite so foolish as to think an explicit distinction between one type of libertarian and another type is lumping all libertarians together, and it’s unfortunate that I gave you that impression.Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to Patrick
      Ignored
      says:

      The first was a great discussion, where we tried to separate coercion, force, leverage and exploitation. I think everyone gained by the dialogue.Report

  6. Avatar Brandon Berg
    Ignored
    says:

    “Democracy is coercive” strikes me as a strange thing to say. Democracy is a way of selecting government policy. A democratic government can—and in practice invariably does—have coercive policies, but that doesn’t mean that democracy itself is coercive. It means that that particular democratic government is coercive.

    Maybe your point is that democracy doesn’t magically transmute coercive policies into noncoercive policies? I’m having trouble finding exactly what L(sic)WC said that started all this.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Brandon Berg
      Ignored
      says:

      A democratic government cannot not have coercive policies. Enforcement is necessary.

      It’s not that democracy is uniquely coercive, or has a special type of coerciveness. As others have noted above, democracy is less coercive than non-democratic governments. But to scoff at the idea that democracy is inherently coercive is to misunderstand the fundamental nature of government; to misunderstand that you cannot have government without coercion. (Which should not be taken as a suggestion that the alternative to government is superior–I’d love to believe in peaceful anarchy, but I think the empirical evidence to the contrary is persuasive.)Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        As others have noted above, democracy is less coercive than non-democratic governments.

        It’s not entirely clear to me how degrees of coercion might be defined. Depending on the definition, neither is it clear that democracy is necessarily less coercive than other forms of government.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Check out Freedom House’s ratings of countries’ level of freedom, measured by political rights and civil liberties protections. They correspond pretty strongly to how democratic the countries are.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        I could sign on to “Statistically, democratic governments tend to be less illiberal than non-democratic governments.” But not that democracy is inherently less coercive. In the US, for example, we owe much of our government’s liberal aspects to explicitly antidemocratic provisions of our constitutions. And abandonment of some of those antidemocratic provisions seems to have resulted in less liberalism in many cases.

        I’m not entirely convinced that the association between democracy and liberalism isn’t due to liberalism causing democracy, rather than the other way around.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        I think your last paragraph makes a very good point.

        As to “more” or “less” coercive, one might be able to make a utilitarian argument that a minority coercing the majority is more net coercion than the majority coercing a minority. But I don’t think I’d want to try to push that argument very far.Report

  7. Avatar Shazbot3
    Ignored
    says:

    “Democracy is slavery.”Report

  8. Avatar Shazbot3
    Ignored
    says:

    I think this is an uncharitable reading of LWA’s intended point.

    Seems petty.Report

  9. Avatar LeeEsq
    Ignored
    says:

    All governments are coercive to an extent because the general idea is that the citizens or the subjects of the state have to obey the laws. There are no countries that make obeying the law an option. Even an extremely minimalist state would require citizens to obey the laws on the books.

    I’m going to argue that an extremely minimalist state would also be coercive in another way. If a country had an explicit minimalist constitution that prevented government from acting in most circumstances than those that believed in a more activist government would be prevented by law from expanding the state even if they won elections. Its a sort of ideological coercion in that there might be no requirement to be a minimalist but believers in more activists government are prohibited from expanding government’s scope by the Minimalist Constitution.Report

  10. Avatar Shazbot3
    Ignored
    says:

    It does seem like a bending of the ordinary usage of coercion to say things like: “I live under a coercive regime because I am not allowed to steal and murder and drive on the wrong side of the road.”

    In a technical sense, all rules with enforcement are “coercive,” but the ordinary language use of “coercive” is narrower than this and only applies to some rules and laws. It is uncharitable to assume that anyone would disagree with the claim “Democracy is coercive in the technical sense” because it is true by definition that all legal regimes -including a libertopian night watchmen state- are coercive in the technical sense. Thus it would be charitable to assume that LWA was picking on extremist libertarians who believe democracy is too coercive in the ordinary language, non-technical sense.

    Professors are usually trained to be charitable. The fact that you did a whole OP being so uncharitable makes your way of thinking look petty and biased.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Shazbot3
      Ignored
      says:

      Heh, it only took you three tries to make a substantive comment, that I would consider responding to. I disagree, though.

      the ordinary language use of “coercive” is narrower than this and only applies to some rules and laws.

      Read the dictionary definitions I quoted to zic. They’re pretty spot on to the way I’m using the term.

      You may now return to your regularly scheduled trolling.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Is calling me a troll over the comment policy line? Or does Dave only step in when you are attacked?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Other than “democracy is slavery,” I don’t think anything Shaz has said here or in other recent threads could be considered trolling. And that, I think, was just snark that, in the context of his general output here, it would not be charitable to treat as trolling.

        This, combined with the recent “plague” remark in the sticky language post, go too far, I think. It’s possible to say that the reflexive “you’re saying both sides do it!” stuff is annoying and unproductive without calling people plagues and trolls.

        Besides, we have actual trolls (see [ADDED FOR CLARITY: the comments in] Russell’s Tuesday post!).

        #aboveitallReport

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Many of Shaz’s comments lately seem to me to be substanceless potshots at the OT in general, along the lines of this one. I’d call that trolling.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        I don’t know, James, I thought that one was pretty good.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Shaz, have you actually read the comment policy?

        In general, a comment will be deemed inappropriate if it makes no attempt to address a point germane to the original post or another comment and instead contains nothing more than a blanket personal attack directed at the author or another commenter will be deleted.

        I did address a point germane to both the original post and your comment, so I’m in compliance. (Moral of the story: Reading is your friend.)Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        The democracy is slavery claim was meant to draw attention to claims like taxation is slavery, which is true on a broad reading of “slavery” where any coerced labor is slavery but certainly not on most people’s use of the term “slavery.” I recognized it was vague and so followed up with a substantive post.

        Recently, I have been arguing that there are false equivalency arguments and some unfair and empty rhetorical attempts (like Rufus’s) to suggest a problem with a position that some liberal offers -i.e. hippy punching- being offered here at Ordinary Gentlemen.

        This does not make me a troll. To suggest that I am a troll is clearly a personal attack (though one I don’t find that upsetting).

        How is that germane to the discussion?

        If it is, would it be germane if I called you a poo-head? Equally adult thing to say, I think.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Chris, I am sorry for saying that you aren’t liberal and an ideological centrist, but in my memory most of your comments are defending critiques of liberalism and defending centrism,of the sort popular with centrist conservatism in places like Britain and Canada’s conservative movements. My memory is poor though, so please let me know if you are more liberal and to what extent you are liberal and not centrist.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Shazbot,

        This blog tends to not take shallow catch phrases like hippe-punching seriously. Here they’re almost always used just tongue-in-cheek. So by repeating that phrase on every critique you position yourself to be seen as someone who’s not very serious. You marginalize yourself.

        I’m ok with that, of course.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Shaz, I am no more a liberal than I am a Texan, and bristle at being called one or the other (or, god forbid, both)!Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Shazbot has a history of telling people they’re liberals when they’re not.Report

      • Avatar Dave in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @james-hanley

        I wouldn’t have gone there. If we are starting to argue what does and does not constitute a violation of the commenting policy, then I think we ought to move the conversation in a different direction.

        Someone called somebody a plague? My commenting policy pager didn’t go off. Weird.

        Shaz,

        Or does Dave only step in when you are attacked?

        Is there some kind of problem?Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @dave

        I was the one who made the “plague” comment. I shouldn’t have and I apologized for it.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @dave

        As much as anything, I like to bring attention to what I think is a weakness in the comment policy. It’s too easily lawyered even by a non-lawyer like me. “I made a substantive comment, so I can add in that you’re a monkeyfishing ashhole dungkopf and still be compliant” is not actually a good outcome. Even when I’m the one who does it.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        James,

        There are a bunch of things you said that don’t deserve a response.

        However, you claim to speak for what this blog takes seriously. That seems presumptuous. Moreover, the phrase hippie-punching is a light hearted way of pointing out a real phenomenon. That phenomenon should be taken seriously. If you -and the whole blog as you claim- do not take it seriously, I will keep talking about it until you do or until I get bored.

        That is not trolling.

        Also, I maintain the position -which I have been unclear in stating, yes- that your libertarian principles -to the extent you are intellectually forthright in stating principle- imply radical positions. That makes you a libertarian. But you then accept policies that are inconsistent with those principles -like redistribution of wealth for “equality of opportunity”- that makes you liberal. So you oscillate back and forth between extreme principles and less radical policies. I’d say that makes you inconsistent between liberalism and libertarianism.

        But I am done speaking with you for now.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        But I am done speaking with you for now.

        Thank you, Jesus.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Back when I was into kick boxing, one of my training partners was a bit of a granola-crunchy type, so I frequently engaged in hippy punching. In turn he engaged in tranny-dyke punching.

        Fun was had by all.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Thing is, I think @shazbot3 is on target here. Saying “democracy is coercive (but only according to this specialized version of ‘coercion’ that doesn’t quite match what you normally mean by the term)” is perhaps true but hardly relevant to my life, not in a world where so many live under the thumb of coercion-as-I-normally-mean-it.

        I’ll have my democracy, thank you very much.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Yet another person who doesn’t bother to read the post and so thinks I’m critiquing democracy.

        It’s what the internetz wuz made for (well, that and porn).Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @james-hanley — I read the post and then the conversation that unfolded. From that, I am supporting the notion that “coercion” ain’t such a great word to use for this, and perhaps “enforcement” gets to the point better. Regardless of what LWA said or did not say.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        You do understand that despite the various directions the discussions went, the point of the OP was to demonstrate that LWA was wrong, right? And that you can’t demonstrate someone is wrong if you don’t talk about the thing they’re talking about, right?

        For the rest of the discussions, I have no problem with people preferring a different word. For the OP, using a different word would have been ridiculous, incoherent, and would have opened me up to the (legitimate) critique that I was avoiding the real issue LWA was talking about by using different words than he used.

        And I’ll admit that I’m surprised that you don’t like the word coercion because of its negative connotations. While I fully understand that the force in government–whether we call it coercion or enforcement–is at times a protection for you against the (illegitimate) coercion of non-government actors, it’s not as though our democratic governments haven’t at times been coercive, in the negative connotation, toward gay and trans people. Those cops at the Stonewall in ’69 were being coercive, negatively so, yes?

        [Edit: I see, in fact, that you address this latter issue below. So I’m not sure why you object to using the word coercion, with its negative connotations, since you also address those negative acts of government.]Report

      • Avatar LWA in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Kids, please- we have all agreed that coercion is a fine and wonderful thing, depending on how it is used.

        So the next time someone says “democracy is coercive”, we can all nod and say “Damn straight- lets have more of that, please.”Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @james-hanley — Well, I’m not really invested in getting between you and @lwa . I guess I was looking at the term on its own, in isolation from this particular interchange between you two. Which I hope is okay.

        Like, perhaps a (very mild and ultimately harmless) curse on both your houses, or something.

        But every statement has a subtext, and when people choose to use “coercion” to describe the acts of government, instead of another term that might denote precisely the same behaviors, such as “enforcement,” I get to ask why we are using that one term and not the other?

        The is not a challenge against you per se, nor against @lwa . I mean to ask in general, why should we use that one term and not the other?

        I suspect the motive will almost always be an attempt to cast government action in a negative light. Which is kinda how folks use language all the time, rhetoric 101. But as someone who depends on regulations to make her life livable — such as my ability to use public restrooms in Cambridge and Boston — I rather wish to cast (at least some) government enforcement in a positive light.

        Does this make sense?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @veronica-dire

        So what’s the subtext of choosing enforcement?

        Again, I chose coercion because LWA used it. And because he said democracy wasn’t coercive. But democracy is coercive, both for good and ill.

        When the police arrest and detain a murderer, the murdered is being coerced. He’s being physically detained against his will. And that’s good. In fact check out the definition of coercion from this online dictionary:

        force or the power to use force in gaining compliance, as by a government or police force.

        That’s enforcement, yes, but it’s also coercion; good coercion.

        But coercion also has its bad side, the baggage* that some folks are complaining about. And democracy is coercive in that way, too. In fact there’s a great research article that demonstrates this, “Putting Civil Rights to a Popular Vote,” by Barbara Gamble, at the University of Michigan. From her abstract:

        Hypotheses: Without the filtering mechanisms of the representative system, direct democracy promotes majority tyranny as the scope
        of civil rights conflicts expands and citizens vote on
        civil rights laws.

        Methods: The paper analyzes over three decades of
        initiatives and popular referenda from five major civil rights
        areas: housing and public accommodations for racial minorities, school desegregation, gay rights, English language laws, and AIDS policies.

        Results: Citizen initiatives that restrict civil rights experience extraordinary electoral success: voters have approved over three-quarters of these, while endorsing
        only a third of all initiatives and popular referenda

        You assume I use the term coercion to cast government in a negative light. This is not true, as from the OP throughout the comments I have repeatedly and explicitly talked about both aspects of coercion, the positive and the negative. It is, after all, just a means, a tool, neither inherently good nor inherently bad. The badness/goodness inheres in the ends we use it for.

        I happily emphasize the good ends–protecting people from murder, rape, assault, robbery, extortion, fraud, etc.

        But I’m not going to pretend the bad ends don’t exist. Our government has tortured people. Our states falsely convict people. Sometimes police assault and even kill citizens and yet go unconvicted by juries, and majorities of Americans don’t want them convicted. It’s real, and we can’t wish it away.

        But you expressly prefer the term enforcement to cast government in a positive light. I get that you need government’s enforcement, and I’m not trying to make light of that–it’s the good side of coercion, and I am not casting that good side in a negative light.

        But it’s your word choice that is biased, not mine. Mine is more encompassing. Yours would obscure the ugly reality that Barbara Gamble demonstrated–ugly realities that in fact affect people in your position. The truth–and I know you know this–is that government sometimes protects you and sometimes doesn’t. If democracy didn’t have a negative side, why would blacks, Native Americans, women, the disabled, gay and transgender people have to fight so damned hard for equal treatment?

        The upside to democracy, of course, is that you actually have a chance to win that fight. And to use that coercive power of the government against those who would harm you.
        _________________
        *It’s occurred to me that everyone who’s objecting to the word coercion because of that baggage is actually trying to rescue LWA’s hypothesis, that democracy isn’t coercive.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @james-hanley — Got it. What you say makes sense.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        James,

        Again, I chose coercion because LWA used it.

        But he used it in a meta-context, yes?, as part of a critique of libertarian uses of the word. I think your right about democracy being coercive, but I’m not at all sure that LWA ever expressed that democracy isn’t coercive in the linked-to thread this post follows from.

        Here’s the comment in that thread where he first uses the term “coercion”, one in which the context is provided by the libertarians he believes he’s paraphrasing:

        yes, there are plenty who regularly hold that taxes= theft, and that voting=coercion and regulation=fascism, or slavery, or serfdom, or something or other.

        Look, these people who call themselves libertarians, actually do say these things- I don’t have to make it up.

        The only other time he uses the word (at least as far as I can tell) is when he responds to a use of the word in a context you provided (the one implying that he’s expressed the belief that democracy isn’t coercive).

        All that is to say that I don’t see him ever arguing or suggesting that democracy isn’t coercive. He’s critiquing certain extremist (from his pov) libertarian views, ones he appears to think (correctly or not) are absurd. And on the face of it, I think the claim that “voting = coercion” is laughably absurd.

        I think you’re right to criticize him for reducing libertarianism to extremist positions. But I think it’s wrong to attribute to LWA the context in which “coercion” is linked to “democracy” in the comments he’s making, or that he’s making the affirmative claim that democracy isn’t coercive.Report

      • Avatar LWA in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Part of what triggers my sense of wariness with the “democracy = coercion” argument is that political arguments generally have a desired point.

        We aren’t a bunch of linguists, are we, debating what the meaning of “is”, is?
        No, we all have a subtext to even the most minute point.

        So here we have the statement:
        Democracy=coercion.
        We all agree it is true.
        Next, we all agree that there are no non-coercive forms of government imaginable, even the most minimal possible.

        OK, so are there forms of societal organization which don’t require government? Not that anyone has mentioned.

        So where does this leave us?
        What we have constructed is a sort of Venn diagram, containing 2 sets- Coercive Organizations, and Noncoercive Organizations.

        The first set contains every conceivable form of societal organization possible.
        The second set is empty.

        So is there a point here?Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @lwa

        There is a point to acknowledging the coerciveness of democracies even when coerciveness is ubiquitous and perhaps in a macro sense unavoidable.

        1. Coercion is unpleasant when you are on the receiving end of it. If we care about stability, then we should care about how often coercion is used and how it is used. Also, if we care about stability, we should take seriously the idea that the use of coercion must be justifiable to any reasonable person it is being used against.

        2. If there are better or worse ways in which we can use coercion, then the unpleasantness of coercion pushes us to justify our uses of coercion.

        3. There are many micro- instances where we can avoid coercion even if the system as a whole remains coercive. Perhaps exceptions can be carved out of some laws. Perhaps more carrots or positive incentives can be employed instead of coercive regulations.

        4. Because it would be better if we can push the ultimate coerciveness of institutions far enough into the background that we can go about our daily lives following the rules because we think the rules are morally justified.

        5. Because there is a difference between governance and government and not all instances which call for governance solutions call for government.

        6. Because the naked exercise of power due to factional advantage without further justification is morally revolting.

        7. Because the use of non-public reasons to justify the exercise of coercive power is insulting to our status as equal members of society.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        Thinking out loud…

        LWA writes “Next, we all agree that there are no non-coercive forms of government imaginable, even the most minimal possible.”

        I think one way to get out of the negative coercion implications is to move the choice back one level of abstraction. We can non-coercively agree to a set of institutions which include the use of legitimate coercion.

        We are in effect using game theory (and intuition) to voluntarily and non coercively establish a cooperative institution which uses coercion among consenting members and in defense from threatening non members.

        Agreeing voluntarily and rationally to a cooperative pact which uses legitimate coercion is not an act of coercion. Thus it is possible to have a non coercive adoption of a legitimately restrained coercive state.

        No?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        Roger,

        I think one way to get out of the negative coercion implications is to move the choice back one level of abstraction. We can non-coercively agree to a set of institutions which include the use of legitimate coercion.

        I’m not disinclined to moving this direction myself, but I think it brings its own set of problems along on the ride backwards. One is that what you’re talking about here is the intuition (or observation?) underlying social contract theory, a view which lots of people have a difficult time with, libertarians especially. Another is that it implies some sort of “reasonable person” standard which lots of people (particularly libertarians, it seems to me) are averse to given that base-level values always strike the person who holds them as entirely reasonable.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        “OK, so are there forms of societal organization which don’t require government? Not that anyone has mentioned.”

        Strange comment. 99% of all societies since the advent of humanity have been without government. These have been studied extensively under the category of “foragers” or “hunter/gatherers.”

        The predominant, virtually universal, organizing principle of nomadic foragers is an egalitarian ethos shared among adult males. Google “Boehm Hierarchy in the Forest” for details. There is nothing similar to a government in the average nomadic forager tribe (revealingly the threat of coercion is always present via use of weapons for those violating the ethos).

        Governments are also missing in all primates and all social insects. Finally, there are plenty of examples of non government social organizations in mining camps and wagon train expeditions.

        Government of course does solve a problem for larger, more complex social organizations. But there are innumerable examples of social orgs without.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        I think the pushback from libertarians is more about assuming there was a social contract when there wasn’t. In general I think many are all for voluntary contracts that step back one level of abstraction. This basically is my take on Buchanan and libertarian endorsements of modified Rawls.

        I do not follow you on the reasonable person standard. Are you suggesting people cannot be reasonably trusted to enter in constitutional contracts?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Strange comment. 99% of all societies since the advent of humanity have been without government.

        Hmmm. I find your comment strange. What do you mean by “government”? I don’t think you and LWA are using the word in the same way. To use Weber’s definition, it seems to me that all thru recorded history and across all societies various institutional structures have accorded a monopoly on the exercise of coercive power to certain individuals. Given that, I’m curious what you mean by “government.”Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @roger

        99% of all societies since the advent of humanity have been without government. These have been studied extensively under the category of “foragers” or “hunter/gatherers.”

        At this level, I think much of what we now consider the coercive part of government would be part of religion; passed on traditions and belief that bind the tribe and govern interactions with other tribes.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        Re: reasonable person:

        US conservatives think it’s reasonable to prohibit gays from marrying, or legalizing pot, etc. US liberals think its reasonable for taxes on income to fund social programs for the poor, or for women to have the right to choose to take a pregnancy to term.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        The vast majority of all human societies have been pre history or outside of history. Foragers have no history. Assuming we agree the human race originated 75000 to 100000 years ago and that the average forager band was 25 to 75 people, the rest is math.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        Roger,

        If those societies are pre-history then we have to remain agnostic about their social organization (since we have no evidence about it one way or the other).Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        “At this level, I think much of what we now consider the coercive part of government would be part of religion; passed on traditions and belief that bind the tribe and govern interactions with other tribes.”

        I would use the term institutions. Yes, foragers have norms, shared ethos, etc to enable cooperation and reduce free riding and bullying. Later, more complex and stationary societies supplemented this with government.

        Government is a form of social institution. I would not redefine non governmental institutions which preceded it by this term simply due to the overlap in purpose.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        SW,

        No we don’t. Again google Boehm as suggested above. Foragers are extremely well documented by anthropologists and such.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Roger,

        I have no idea what point you’re making here (if it’s an interesting aside about an academic curiosity that’s one thing…). I asked you upthread what you mean by the word “government” such that you think it’s a modern invention, one that 99% of all human social organizations thru history have lacked. You haven’t answered that, except to repeat that it’s something 99% of etc.etc. And interestingly, in your attempt to distinguish the two types of social arrangements (those with government and those without) you say:

        There is nothing similar to a government in the average nomadic forager tribe (revealingly the threat of coercion is always present via use of weapons for those violating the ethos).

        Doesn’t that effectively make LWA’s and my point for us?Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        I don’t know if this matters or not to your point, @roger but in something like 65 years of current population we’ll have had as many humans as would have lived through all hunter-gatherer societies from the dawn of speech to the age of agriculture. (That’s 90,000 years with pop. of 5m = 45b people; divided by 7 billion people = 64.3 years.)Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        SW,
        Thanks for the questions and push back.

        1) I was disproving the suggestion by LWA that all societal organizations have government or an institution with a monopoly on the exercise of force. This is patently false. Not that it will keep him from repeating it again tomorrow. It is false in two senses — government and monopoly.

        2) I am still not following you on the reasonable person thing. What do your examples have anything to do with the ability of a person to choose the terms of organization? I am not being argumentative. I simply don’t understand.

        3) my quote does not make LWAs point. His point is that all societal orgs have government. False.

        My point (clarified best to Veronica a few minutes ago) is that the targeted threat of coercion can indeed be used to repress coercion and free riding. I am not actually aware of anyone making a counter argument. Another point I made was that we can partially sidestep this by allowing people to voluntarily and non coercively choose which society to join. Granted it does not eliminate coercion, which does feel a role, but it makes the adoption of targeted coercion non coercive.

        Do note also that it is well documented that nomadic foragers have exit and entrance opportunities. Bands are semi fluid with changing membership. Thus, foragers do have a degree of choice in which societal organization to join.

        Am I clearing things up or confusing them further?Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        I agree of course, Zic.

        Assuming 8 million foragers with a lifespan of 35 years and average band size of 50 means over a period of say 75,000 years implies most societal organizations were non governmental, yet they contained a minority of the population.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        Roger,

        Well, this whole discussion would be simplified if you would just explain what you mean by the word “government,” what it is, how that institutional arrangement is purely modern, in what way it never existed for 99% of human history, etc.

        Anyway,

        Wrt 1 and 3: LWA never said that all societies have included institutional structures that accord a monopoly on the use of force to certain individuals, I did. And in your characterization of prehistoric societies you more or less indirectly concede at least part of that claim by saying that those societies were “an egalitarian ethos shared among adult males”. At the very least, males were accorded the legitimate use of force to enforce the cultural “ethos” within those societies. On another level, given that norms were enforced at all implies that individuals are accorded the power to enforce them.

        Which gets us to whether or not your comments make LWA’s point for him. He wrote “Next, we all agree that there are no non-coercive forms of government imaginable, even the most minimal possible.” You responded further down the thread by saying that in non-governmental socieites “the threat of coercion is always present via use of weapons for those violating the ethos).” THe only way to make sense of this is to view government as something different than the threat of coercion (or the legitimate use of force, or whatever). As yet, you haven’t made that distinction, so I have no idea what you’re talking about. But I do understand what LWA is talking about: that government is just a collection of institutional norms that can legitimately (in some sense of that word) be enforced.

        Regardin 2.:

        If you don’t think that reasonable people can disagree then I don’t know what to tell you or how to explain the concept. I mean, I take it as a datum of human life that reasonable people can disagree. I also take it as a datum that people believe their own views are entirely reasonable and that two people can hold opposing views and view the other one as entirely unreasonable.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        Thanks SW,

        I have not disagreed with the conclusion which LWA made about coercion being endemic in societal organizations. I was pointing out that they don’t need government. Sorry if this wasn’t clear.

        If one defines government down to include any shared norms, roles and enforcement institutions, then I would back off even that claim. I have zero interest in offering dueling definitions. Not sure what the term “anarchy” means any more though.

        I concur that the threat of coercion is always present with humans. I concur that humans will always need to deal with it, and always have had to. They have also, to the best of my knowledge, always used the threat of coercion as one (of many) means to repress coercion and free riding which are the Achilles heel(s?) of cooperation.

        Also, i do not consider “all males in a band” as synonymous for “monopoly.” If someone else chooses to I am fine with it as long as they do so explicitly.

        Finally, I of course agree that reasonable people can disagree. Are you suggesting that makes constitutional or institutional choice tough? If so, I agree. I just wasn’t following you. If it wasn’t tough we would have solved it already.

        Foragers were able to sidestep the problem somewhat better because social organizations were much more fluid than they are now. Like minded people could associate together voluntarily by walking away from those they disagreed with.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        Roger,

        Fair enough, I suppose. I think you’ve sidestepped rather than clarified the underlying disagreement, tho.

        And I think zic (amongst others, including me) would have something to say about this claim

        Also, i do not consider “all males in a band” as synonymous for “monopoly.”Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        @stillwater

        I think I’ve satisfactorily demonstrated that the negative type of coercion libertarians are critiquing is a part of democracy, too. Again, I’ll point to my discussion of Barbara Gamble’s research.

        So while that’s not the whole of democracy, it’s not separable from it, so mocking the idea that democracy is coercive in that sense is still inaccurate.

        I’d like someone, anyone, who is inclined to disagree with me, to account for Gamble’s research. Here is an ungated version.

        (As an addendum, I am not claiming that direct democracy always produces restrictions on minority rights. Even in Gamble’s research, nearly a quarter of the time minority rights were protected. And Bruno Frey and Lorenz Goette found a very different outcome in Swiss direct democracy. My point is just that oppression of minorities can and does sometimes occur in democracies as an expression of the demos‘s preferred policy outcome.)Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        @LWA
        So here we have the statement:
        Democracy=coercion.
        We all agree it is true.
        Next, we all agree that there are no non-coercive forms of government imaginable, even the most minimal possible. … So where does this leave us?
        What we have constructed is a sort of Venn diagram, containing 2 sets- Coercive Organizations, and Noncoercive Organizations.

        The first set contains every conceivable form of societal organization possible.
        The second set is empty.

        So is there a point here?

        You mean other than the point that you were wrong to scoff at the idea that democracy is coercive?

        No, that was pretty much the whole point of my OP. I’m glad to note your agreement.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        @stillwater

        Government is usually understood by political scientists and anthropologists to involve formal offices that are separable from the individual. E.g., Obama is the president, but the presidency is not Obama. Prior to this what heirarchical authority existed (which evidence from existing hunter-gather groups in the era of recorded history suggests was considerably less than in civilized societies) was personal power: the respected elder, or the big man, or the guy who was good enough at hunting to feed lots of folks so you’d better be respectful of him if you wanted to eat, etc.

        Formal government appears to have developed with settled agricultural societies, with one of its main functions being to control the food supply, and through that to enforce social control, and a set of bureaucratic/administrative offices attendant to achieving that.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        James,

        Thanks for that clarification. Couple of things pop into my brain…

        1. Insofar as the person who plays the role of “the big man” with the power to compel is different than the person playing the formal role of “the president” with the power to compel, what is the distinction in the type of compulsion (coercion) applied?

        2. Is a king different than a tribal head honcho?

        3. Is the relevant difference (assuming there is one) that in a tribal society the head honcho is the administrator of coercive power whereas in a formal government the president uses proxies to play that role?Report

      • Avatar LWA in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        @roger
        So your point is that primitive hunter-gatherer tribes had no government?

        OK, you are absolutely correct!

        When I mention government or the marketplace, I assumed we all were speaking about things which do or could exist in the 21st Century- not two fur clad traders in forests of Westeros.

        But seriously- are you going to make the Noble Savage argument- that primitive people lived in a state of grace, and injustice and oppression were modern intervention to the natural state?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        @stillwater

        I’ll try to answer these questions, with the caveat that it’s not my strongest area. Few political scientists spend a lot of time thinking about this, and it tends to fall a bit more in the area of anthropology. I think political scientists are wrong not to think about it more, though, particularly the political theory folks. This is probably one of those areas where disciplinary boundaries limit our understanding.

        1. Insofar as the person who plays the role of “the big man” with the power to compel is different than the person playing the formal role of “the president” with the power to compel, what is the distinction in the type of compulsion (coercion) applied?

        The big man is generally more about personal influence, rather than ability to authoritatively command. Think of that guy you know who just naturally seems to be a leader, he’s got charisma, he may be very athletic or just have a great aura of competence. But he can’t necessarily order anyone around. And to the extent he tries to command, rather than persuade/influence, he lacks lieutenants who are bound to carry out his will. He may persuade others to help him control, but the lack of formal offices means he’s more easily blown off than a king (normally) is.

        2. Is a king different than a tribal head honcho?

        Yes, for the reasons given above. A king’s office is formal, which generally gives it a greater sense of legitimacy in authority to command, and has a bureaucracy to help enforce the king’s edicts.

        Frequently, the king’s authority was also legitimated by religion, in a way that “big men’s” authority wasn’t (and didn’t need to be, since it didn’t normally claim the power to give orders and expect them to be obeyed without question). We see this from the Asian concept of the mandate of heaven, to even today in the British monarchy, where from what I’ve read Queen Elizabeth sincerely believes that she was placed in her position by God. The Declaration of Independence had to address this question, because rebellion against the king was generally understood as rebellion against heaven, which is why they spoke of inalienable rights, the government’s duty to protect them–a god given duty–and “appeal[ed] to the Supreme Judge of the world” to judge their actions.

        Now, if you want to ask me if there’s a clear bright line dividing the big man from the king, I’d say there probably isn’t. Categories are things we humans define to help make sense of the world, and it’s an exceedingly rare case where the boundaries are clear and sharp, where there aren’t “boundary cases” that put the distinction to the test. It’s true with our definition of species, it’s true with the distinction between trees and shrubs, and–one of the first examples of this I ever became aware of–it’s true of the distinction between tables and benches. And yet with all of those things we do recognize that there are meaningful differences. I’d say it’s really the same with tribal leaders and kings.

        3. Is the relevant difference (assuming there is one) that in a tribal society the head honcho is the administrator of coercive power whereas in a formal government the president uses proxies to play that role?

        Hmm, I think that’s partly it. It maps on fairly well to what I said above about lieutenants and bureaucracy. But in addition it has to do with the sense of legitimacy to go beyond influence to giving authoritative orders, to make people obey even when they are not persuaded. But those two things are not entirely separate from each other, but are intertwined. When the office becomes formalized, as with the presidency, we understand that, say, Barack Obama has authority to give orders while, and only while, he legitimately holds title to the office, and when, and only when, he’s acting within the authority of the office. The authority inheres in the office, rather than in the man. I think your suggested answer is reaching in that direction.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        @lwa
        I was simply responding to your comment, perhaps throw away in nature, that no societal organizations exist without government. In the grand scheme of things (since the advent of human societal orgs), governments are a fairly recent addition. They solve a problem of decision making, specialized control and enforcement for complex organizations. Governments are a “good idea.”

        “..are you going to make the Noble Savage argument- that primitive people lived in a state of grace, and injustice and oppression were modern intervention to the natural state?”

        No. Why? Nomadic foragers faced constant risk from other foragers. The death rate via violence was several orders of magnitude higher than the present era. However, the dominant form of social organization, as extensively documented by anthropologist and director of the Goodall Center at USC Christopher Boehm, was an egalitarian ethos, or reverse hierarchy.

        Quoting Boehm, adult males basically arrive at an informal truce, giving up their “statistically small chance of becoming ascendant–in order to avoid the very high probability that [they] will be subordinated.”

        Here is Boehm from HIERARCHY IN THE FOREST (p68 -69):

        “Foragers are not intent on true and absolute equality, but on a kind of mutual respect that leaves individual autonomy intact…”

        “In my opinion, nomadic foragers are universally–and all but obsessively–concerned with being free from the authority of others. That is the basic thrust of their political ethos, which applies equally to all the main political actors.”

        “An ethos is fascinating because it is not necessarily a statement about an actual state of affairs, but a set of strongly held moralistic positions about how life should be.”

        “…this egalitarian approach appears to be universal for foragers who live in small bands that remain nomadic, suggesting considerable antiquity for political egalitarianism.”

        He goes on to mention that they sometimes do have a big man or leader, as James mentions above, but this role is accomplished not by force, threat or coercion but by prestige.

        Coercion is indeed an omnipresent threat to nomadic foragers. Partially to protect against it they form egalitarian , non coercive, cooperative arrangements where group decision making is made by persuasion, with any male free to leave with his family (albeit dependent upon finding another band.)

        I agree with James. Political scientists should read more anthropology.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        @roger

        Great comment, and great quote. My dissertation research was on cooperation and conflict, and I ended up reading a lot of animal behaviour and anthropological literature, and one of my committee members was an anthropologist.

        It’s given me a perspective on politics that is very unusual among political scientists. It’s evident to me that politics is not solely a human activity, but is present in most, possibly all, social species.

        And as you note governanceexists where government doesn’t, and inarguably predates government. A lot of the shift has to do with sheer size of the population. Less formal governance processes can work successfully with smaller groups, but as group size increases, the difficulties of coordinating behavior increase exponentially, and more formal methods of governing become useful.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        @james-hanley

        There are some excellent summaries on the web of Boehm’s research. I would give the highest possible recommendations to reading Hierarchy in the Forest as well as his later book Moral Origins.

        I am absolutely positive you would love the former book. It flows in seamlessly with Ostrom’s thinking.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Shazbot3
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      says:

      @stillwater

      If I were in charge of naming clocks and calendars and epochs, I’d start a new count. (We have reached the end of the long count, no?) and historically, mark it the age of women; the time when women were recognized as ruling members of the human tribe; a turning point every bit as important as the birth of Christ.

      So yeah, I’d have a quibble. Any notion of the benefits of agreed-upon coercion historically changed when women gained control of their fertility and opened the door to participate as equals. Anything before my mythical year 0 automatically excludes half the population, and talking about those years in terms of individual liberty, without coercion, and exit rights is hogwash; it was not universal. (This is the weight of history I keep going on about.) To pinpoint my year 0, I’d pick the year when at least half of living women finally had access to contraception, education, and the right to vote. I’m hoping we’ve already passed that year; I suspect it was sometime in the 1980’s, but it may have been more recent, and we may not quite be there yet; I’d have to figure out how to reckon it. (My placement of the 1980’s is based on events in China; but India now may actually be the tipping point.)Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to zic
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        says:

        Maybe a little more than a quibble, eh? Yeah, agree with what you’re saying here. I also agree with LWA’s comment right above regarding the noble savage/modernity sucks distinction. I’ll wait for more from James about all this, but right now I’m inclined to think that even if I were to grant that for simplicity we can talk about government as a formal institution (with formal, latin based names!) rather than an informal one, it’s a
        distinction without a difference. At least wrt what we’re talking about on this thread. I’m open to being wrong about that, tho.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to zic
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        says:

        I’m not quite sure what you’re quibbling with, but that’s an interesting comment. Just looking up a few numbers (and unable to vouch for them):

        % of parliamentary seats held by women: 18% (as of 2008) (Source: International Women’s Democracy Center (IWCD)). I also know, from work one of my students did, that the factor that distinguishes countries with large proportions of women in government from those without is whether or not the country has quotas for seats held by women, so the good numbers may be more a result of electoral rules than actual enlightened voters. (On the other hand, in the U.S., where women currently hold 18.5% of the seats in Congress, they in general have about a 50-50 chance of winning office, if they choose to run. Fewer women run for office, though (and I don’t know, and won’t ignorantly speculate about, why).

        Women heads of states: 13 out of 189.

        Women appear to have the right to vote in all countries except Saudi Arabia, and in Western Sahara (disputed region of Mauritania), and they are supposed to get the right to vote in Saudi Arabia in 2015. I can’t tell when the 50% mark was hit, nor can I tell how effective those rights actually are in many countries.

        Apparently most women in the world have access to contraceptives. 60% of couples in developing countries use contraceptives. (That really surprises me, but the source is the UN Population Fund, so I’m inclined to believe it).

        I won’t try to make the determination of whether that adds up to us having reached year 0 yet. And if we have, I obviously haven’t given enough information to determine when we did. But it’s interesting information, I think.

        Sources:
        International Women’s Democracy Center
        Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics
        Washington Post
        United Nations Population FundReport

  11. Avatar LWA
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    says:

    First off- I don’t disagree that democracy is coercive…in the thoughtful, abstract, beard-stroking way that we are talking about here, which is pretty much what Jason Brennan did over at BHL in his post on the same subject.

    My point is more that this DOES sound like a sticky, whacka doodle thing to say, especially to those who aren’t avid political junkies.

    Ditto for all the other slogans- taxes are slavery, etc etc.

    When your slogan requires 14 footnoted paragraphs in order to bring it back from the glassy eyed “All Power To The Proletariat!” brink and sound like something a reasonable person can grab hold of, you should try a better choice of words.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to LWA
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      says:

      So you think of things in simplistic terms, assume others are only thinking in simplistic terms, and respond to critique by ginning up an anti-intellectual counter-attack.

      I think you need to stop calling yourself a liberal. From your passionate focus on the needs of society to your anti-intellectualism you clearly are a conservative.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to LWA
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      says:

      When your slogan requires 14 footnoted paragraphs in order to bring it back from the glassy eyed “All Power To The Proletariat!” brink and sound like something a reasonable person can grab hold of

      To a reasonable person, the claim that democratic governments are coercive is obviously correct. The problem is convincing those who unthinkingly associate democracy with unadulterated goodness.Report

    • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to LWA
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      says:

      I am sorry for that Freedom House website that I don’t remember creating though. in my defense it was a great potshot at something.Report

  12. Avatar Burt Likko
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    says:

    It’s obvious to the point of tautology that democracy, like all forms of government, requires the use of coercive force. Let’s move on from that.

    Does democracy legitimate the use of coercive force more than other available forms of government, and if so, why? The classical answer is “Yes, because of participation in the process of creating laws by way of voting for representatives accountable to the electorate for the laws they write.” (Query if that condition actually exists in, say, the United States, but the US is reasonably close to as good as that gets anyway, low approval ratings and polarized gripes about government on cable news notwithstanding.)

    I’d be really interested in whether anyone has either a) another reason why democracy legitimizes the use of force, or b) whether some other kind of government better legitimizes it.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Burt Likko
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      says:

      Burt,
      I would agree that’s what legitimizes force in a democracy. Notably, the more inclusive the democracy, the more legitimacy we tend to grant it and its actions.

      And legitimacy does seem to flow from below, rather than being claimed from above. Ultimately, even non-democracies have some accountability to the public. More authoritarian governments are toppled by domestic actors than by international forces.

      But, weirdly to me, that means authoritarian, non-democratic, governments can have legitimacy, too. But sometimes they don’t, really, and people only go along out of fear. And we don’t have a way to reliably recognize when a government is legitimate and when it is not.

      And I suppose it’s worth pointing out that there are a significant number of people in the U.S. who no longer see our government as legitimate, some because they think it’s gone too far outside its boundaries in general, some apparently just because of Obama. Obviously they’re a fairly miniscule minority, but they do indicate the potential, perhaps, for legitimacy-recognition to be withheld even in a democracy.

      I’m venturing far outside my real comfort zone of knowledge, here, though.Report

      • NobAkimoto NobAkimoto in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        I think on some level that legitimacy is as much about agency as it is about consent. At least in the democratic or liberal state. That is the extent to which one has agency to express disagreement with state legitimacy and conduct expressive actions thereof is rather ironically equasl to the legitimacy of that institution.

        For example compare BLM to the NYPD. Their respective responses to challenges to their legitimacy can in some sense represent their respective strength. By deescalating blm shows more democratic legitimacy than the NYPD did in dealing with occupy.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        @nobakimoto

        Excellent example! A big part of legitimacy of force/coercion is how it is used. Just because a given state can bring down the boot doesn’t mean it should, as doing so can severely damage it’s legitimacy.

        Any use for force by the state should always be tempered with an eye toward justice & mercy. Something I think a lot of agencies & citizens in the US have forgotten.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        “I’ve been fined less than a tenth of a penny!”
        … name the agency.Report

  13. Avatar Chris
    Ignored
    says:

    Since we’ve all agreed that all forms of government have the power to coerce, why don’t we continue the formula and say that power itself is coercive? While governments exist, in part, in order to create a monopoly on direct violence (or at least monopolize the ability to sanction it), and all of its other functions and powers extend out from this monopoly, direct violence isn’t the only coercive power, so governments do not hold a monopoly on coercion. Any social system that is defined by its relationships of power, then, is a coercive system. Anything we can say about governments, with respect to their coercive power, we can say about any other coercive system. If then democracy’s coercive power holds the most danger for the lease powerful, the minority, we can also say that any other social system’s coercive power holds the most danger for its least powerful.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
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      says:

      Chris,

      Not arguing, but asking for clarification. When I used the term coercion, I was keeping it in terms of Weber’s physical force. Are you extending it beyond the physical, to include what…for lack of a better term at the moment…I’ll call social coercion? E.g., the kind that Tocqueville was also referencing when he talked about the tyranny of opinion?

      I think it’s fair to do that, although I think it obviously gets harder to figure out where the line between persuasion and coercion is. I’m just not sure if that’s where you’re going or not, and I think understanding that matters to how one would respond to you.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        I am thinking of anything that might result in harm to someone’s physical condition (and perhaps to other things), which is not limited to physical violence.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @chris

        Again, not to argue, but that seems like an unusual intermediate position. It’s beyond just physical harm, but stops short of emotional/psychological harm (except where that damages a person’s physical condition). I’m not familiar with that position, so I’d have to ponder it before I could say much in response (not that you were necessarily asking me for a response).Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        I’m trying to think of an example that won’t immediately take us into contentious weeds.

        It is possible to coerce someone through threats to their livelihood that do not require threats of direct violence (though they might be backed by such threats, in most cases sanctioned or carried out by the state; in fact, in pretty much any system, the state ends up becoming the coercive arm of those in power).

        Also, a distinction between physical and mental harm is becoming increasingly untenable, philosophically. At some point I assume this will have to be reflected in our more practical theorizing.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        It’s not that I’m questioning the category, I just find its use unusual. So I wouldn’t want to get bogged down in the weeds of examples when I’m not disputing it.

        Although I am inclined to agree that the distinction between physical and mental harm seems untenable. Seeing the brain, and mind, as merely a physical thing, I could hardly argue otherwise.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @james-hanley @chris

        When I think of coercion, Chris’s point and James’s unclarity* on what Chris means often trips me up. Is shunning “coercion”? Is an organized boycott coercion? Is a boycott by one person coercion?

        Another, related concern–and this is more an issue with Weber than anyone–is the notion of “monopoly of legitimate coercion.” That strikes me as very circular. When a parent spanks his/her child, is that “legitimate” coercion, and if so can we say it happens only because the state, as arbiter and monopoly-holder of “legitimate” coercion, suffers it? That’s probably a too problematic example (especially if one believes parent-child corporal punishment is bad, an position I’m inclined toward). But that’s the type of thing that trips me up when it comes to Weber’s definition.

        *I’m not accusing James of anything. I have the same lack of clarity.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @gabriel-conroy

        I share those questions. One advantage of Weber’s “physical force” is that it’s more clear, and it’s clearly one type of coercion (a subset). So if we have the use or credible threat of physical force, we necessarily have coercion. Whether we have coercion in other cases, well, I think we all agree that it exists in other cases; it’s just the task of trying to make general definitions that clearly envelope those other types of coercion that is a difficult task.

        Take retail store design, for example. Retail stores never physically force you to buy anything–they don’t pull your wallet out of your pocket and take your money, nor do they restrain you from leaving the store until you’ve bought (although something nearly like that happened to me once in the Dubai gold souk!). But they have learned that if they make a store that has few direct thoroughfares, so that as customers walk through they are frequently confronted with shelves of merchandise blocking their path, that people–as a group, not necessarily any individual–will buy more.

        Are they coercing purchases that way? I’d be awfully disinclined to see it as such a coercion that I’d want to prohibit it by law, but I’m not entirely unsympathetic to the idea that it’s coercive. But that’s a lot harder to clearly focus a general principle around than is “physically striking or restraining someone.”Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        I would treat a general boycott as a form of coercion. Since, in our system, it is possible to significantly impact someone’s livelihood, which is tightly connected with their physical conditions, economically, I would treat economic pressure in general as coercive. I understand if this is not the usual way of talking about coercion in political science, though.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        @chris I’d suggest religion is often coercive; threat of eternal damnation and all that.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        zic, hell yeah!

        Pardon the pun.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        This sub thread is especially interesting.

        I have always wanted to write a guest post on the topic of “the Nature of Harm”. There are nine or ten distinct types of harms, each with distinctive characteristics and complicating factors. (intentional physical harm, deception, limitations of freedom, self harm, harmed by natural forces, harmed by secondary effects of benign intentions, harmed by accident, harmed by effects on scarce resources, harm by free riding or cheating, and harm due to lost opportunity.)

        Two of the above types of harm are especially tricky — harm caused by depletion of scarce resources and harm caused by lost opportunity (every time I buy Coke, every other prospective seller of beverages is in some way harmed by the lost opportunity by me not buying from them). Boycotts and replacing one worker with another are both examples of harm by lost opportunity.

        The difficulty with labeling these latter two types of harm as coercion as they basically lead to the ability to define almost any human act as coercive. This leads to the argument to institute a restriction on freedom (another kind of harm) to protect against the former, more benign types.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        @roger — OMG please write that!Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Chris
      Ignored
      says:

      With an estimated 8% of our GDP operating outside of “governmental control” (aka taxes) — how much of a monopoly are we actually talking? Can we measure the number of humans killed by the government, as opposed to by slavers? (n.b.: including sex slavery in here, because it’s apropos).Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Chris
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      says:

      @chris

      I think the reason why we shouldn’t want to say that power is coercive is because there are non-coercive forms of power. For example. Suppose I am a rock star. I have lots of power vis a vis recording labels. This power allows me to get my way more often than I ordinarily would in negotiating contracts with them. But neither I nor the recording label is sufficiently desperate (starving, near bankruptcy) that my exercise of market power against them counts as coercive.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Murali
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        says:

        That’s an interesting example, because while it is undoubtedly the case that the rock star has leverage, in the vast majority of cases there is no real sense in which he or she has more power than the record company, even within that negotiation. Unless we treat leverage as identical with power.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Murali
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        says:

        Power is the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will, despite resistance, regardless of the basis on which this probability rests

        (Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, 1915)Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Murali
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        says:

        That’s a fine definition of power as a social force, but I’m not sure it makes sense to define power in that way as a structural property of social systems and agents within them. To see what I mean, consider your example: while it is true that the rock star has leverage — his or her future earnings for the record company — the record company has more resources, and in fact resources that the rock star needs, and can ultimately do more harm to the rock star than the rock star can to the company. The only thing preventing it from doing so is the company’s own profit motive, which is what the rock star uses as leverage from a position of less power.Report

  14. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto
    Ignored
    says:

    I think, in some sense, you guys are all playing semantic games of defining “is”. Coercion has both a connotative and dictionary definition, just as force or power do. I think there’s certainly a difference between declaring a Weberian state to be coercive versus declaring its coercion to be illegitimate. While it’s intellectually lazy to argue that libertarians are the only people who think democracy is coercive, there’s the added adjective of illegitimate to be added to clarify the statement to make it one worth contesting. Moreover, there’s a strain of libertarianism that believes any form of state coercion is prima facie illegitimate. Further, I don’t think it’s particularly controversial to note that these same people tend to also use coercion as shorthand for illegitimacy.

    I think though, from a political theory point of view, coercion isn’t a particularly interesting subject. We know that states have that power to coerce. In fact there’s a tautology in a lot of theory where we define a state as monopoly on the legitimate use of force and legitimate use of force as coming from the state. (That and power is the ability to coerce and coercion is the use of power to change actions). Agency, power differentials, the subaltern, those are all more interesting from a theoretical point of view, particularly when we’re discussing libertarian concepts like free exchange and choice. Particularly agency more than anything should be the principle theoretical emphasis of political theory which I don’t see as often as it should be brought up.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Nob Akimoto
      Ignored
      says:

      I think there’s certainly a difference between declaring a Weberian state to be coercive versus declaring its coercion to be illegitimate.

      The latter would just be self-contradictory.

      Moreover, there’s a strain of libertarianism that believes any form of state coercion is prima facie illegitimate.

      That’s an extremely small strain, since even those who believe in a minimalist night watchman state believe in the legitimacy of at least some state coercion, if only that coercion which is a response and counter to a (definitionally illegitimate) initiation of force. You’re really, at that point, talking about pure anarchists, and there’s disagreement on whether anarchists are really even libertarians, or whether they’re a categorically different group. I do hope that you’re not joining that crowd that takes that miniscule “all coercion is illegitimate, period” group as being particularly representative of libertarianism.

      coercion isn’t a particularly interesting subject. We know that states have that power to coerce.

      Again, I want to emphasize that I was never claiming anything more than that very simplistic point. It’s so simplistic that nobody can quite seem to grasp that there was really nothing more to my post than that; so simplistic that it’s difficult to comprehend that anyone was actually arguing against it.Report

      • NobAkimoto NobAkimoto in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        I don’t think the quasianarchic minarchy advocates are necessarily representative of libertarianism, but I do think on a rhetorical level they’re much more influential than some give them credit for. Language like coercion or confiscation or theft is sadly rampant in online populist Paulian lexicons of debate.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        Yes, Nob, but I’m trying to fight back against that outsized influence. And it’s not made easier by decent people like you emphasizing them despite knowing they’re not really representative.

        Or should I begin equating liberals with just that small minority who think Hugo Chavez was a hero?Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        I’m sympathetic to what you’re saying, particularly when it comes to say Chavinistas (who make mailing lists for latin american studies for example, completely unreadable). But I think there’s certainly a point where there is some question as to why that outsize influence exists.

        I’m inclined to think as much as anything that it’s a theoretical failure. Not so much that there’s something wrong with libertarian theory, but that libertarian political theory is often so thoroughly based on political economy that it can’t escape that framing. The language of New Institutional Economics, for example, helps bridge some of that gap.

        Note that as a constructivist of the Alex Wendt variety (and I’m increasingly more comfortable defining myself as such), I think power differentials and how social norms develop around them are a key part of political theory. NIE does a great job of examining, that, too.

        In some ways I would even suggest it might, in fact, be more useful to create a new school of political theory and thought but there aren’t any cool names I can think of.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        @james-hanley The problem with the argument that “no, the crazies aren’t the major parts of our movement” is that unlike liberals or conservatives, there is no good polling of libertarians. If you make the Chavez claim, James, I can say, “actually, here’s what liberals believe.” Same thing with the GOP.

        OTOH, no, I don’t think the “taxes are slavery” crowd is majority of libertarians. But, on the other hand, I don’t think most of them are relatively deep thinkers like you, Jaybird, or Roger on his good days.

        Most of them, frankly, are middle class to upper middle class white guys who were born on third and think they hit a triple, and as a result, don’t see the point of government help since they did it on their own*, so what’s the point of all these taxes. Oh, and they want to smoke pot.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        For what it’s worth, I don’t know any libertarians who haven’t converted to libertarianism. They were all raised either liberal or conservative or squishy moderate or whathaveyou.

        As such, the libertarians I know have, at least, thought about it a little.

        (Needless to say, I’m sure we all know liberals, conservatives, and squishy moderates who were raised that way as well as those who converted after, presumably, thinking about it.)Report

      • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        I have to say that over twenty years of interacting with libertarians on the Internet, I had run across maybe two or three who weren’t pretty doctrinaire. Until I found this site. It’s refreshing but takes a while to get used to.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        @jesse-ewiak I suspect that you know very little about the circumstances of these libertarians’ births but are merely assuming “born on third” because your ideology tells you that that’s how most people on third got there.

        And that’s technically true, if “born on third” means born in a first-world country. But by American standards, most of the libertarians I know come from middle-middle class backgrounds or lower.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @nobakimoto

        I’m totally on board with NIE. And as a throwaway trivia point, I once heard Doug North speak on a panel with Lin Ostrom at a conference. Didn’t get to meet him unfortunately, but came away with the impression of a really really nice guy. Ostrom, of course, was also very nice, and within the NIE camp. So I’ll take those two data points, plus you for three, and recklessly conclude that NIE folks are invariably nice.

        @jesse-ewiak,
        It’s ironic that you begin by noting (accurately, I think) how little polling there is of libertarians, and then conclude by making a sweeping generalization of this unpolled group.

        Obviously I can only speak anecdotally, but I was born into a lower middle class family, the child of parents who both grew up in single-family households during the Depression. My own family was single-income for two years while my dad recovered from a serious accident, and there were times we barely scraped by. I remember the time my dad was so ecstatic because he’d found a $50 that he’d tucked into his wallet and forgotten about (equivalent to closer to $200 today), because it meant we could buy food for the rest of the week. I remember my mom making cornmeal mush for dinner, because it was all we had in the house.

        My good friend, Lance, grew up in a lower middle income family that moved all the time because his dad was either too restless to settle down, or couldn’t keep a job (I’m not sure which). He went to 4 different high schools, talks about having always been the new kid and not having any good friends or sense of security. Today he does freelance construction work in the summer, and teaches math classes as an adjunct in the winter, his wife takes care of elderly people in-home, and they have no health insurance. He’s a libertarian, as well.

        James Buchanan, one of the founders of public choice theory, and very influential among libertarians, grew up poor on a farm, and was treated disdainfully for his poverty by those who really were born on third base–genteel New England liberals, for the most part–when he joined the army in WWII and when he went to college.

        So, you might want to check your stereotype. You yourself have stated there’s insufficient data to make such claims, and the belief is likely to lead you to make assumptions about folks like me that are not valid at all.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        Jesse,
        Oh, come off it! Of course we can poll libertarians. We have the entire vast internet at our disposal. (and yes, people use the internet for polling, and not always in the “opt-in” varietal — lotta free data out there).

        It’s not that libertarians are /dumb/ it’s that they’re sometimes too smart for their own good, and inclined to look at what’s best, not what’s practical (plus, um, Aspies.)

        Tao put it best, “This would work wonderfully if everyone were as smart as you.”Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @jesse-ewiak

        I’ll add that in my family, there are an awful lot of “libertarians” who are really GOP conservatives. It’s pretty easy to figure this out by hitting the social-conservative talking points with them (gay rights, abortion, etc.) & watching them either perform logical contortions or outright abandon any concept of core libertarian principle in order to support those social-conservative bits.

        These are usually conservatives who are somewhat disillusioned with the GOP, but unable to stomach the DNC, so they latch onto whatever political movement grants them some kind of salve. Not much we can do about them except engage them & either persuade them to give up the social-conservatism, etc, or tell them to go back home to the GOP (something I do regularly with my family).Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        “…I don’t know any libertarians who haven’t converted to libertarianism. They were all raised either liberal or conservative or squishy moderate or whathaveyou.”

        I concur. It is a philosophy which is usually self discovered. Part of this is an individualistic streak though. I sometimes jokingly suspect that if I had been raised a classical liberal, I would have run from it and tried to become something else.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @mad-rocket-scientist

        You’re making me think we might be related. 😉Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @james-hanley

        Oh dear lord I hope not. I love my family, but most of them…

        Let’s just say I hope they go to heaven, because there is no way Satan deserves that kind of grief.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Now you’ve convinced me we’re related.

        I was at my mom’s house for a few days this week, doing some work for her, and I was very happy she was an Indiana Pacers fan, because it meant only 1/2 hour of Fox News, then she had to switch to the basketball game.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @james-hanley

        Well, then I guess there is nothing for it but to make sure we sit down over beer sometime & share horror stories of our families.Report

  15. Avatar Road Scholar
    Ignored
    says:

    Capitalism is exploitation.

    Now be perfectly honest; what was your initial, gut-level reaction to that sentence? Now look “exploitation” up in a dictionary. Am I wrong? Depends on which definition I select, no?

    But it sure sounds like I’m saying something bad about capitalism, doesn’t it? Sounds like something a die-hard Marxist would say, huh?Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Road Scholar
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      says:

      It depends on the context, which I haven’t been able to figure out. If someone were just to say “Democracy is coercion” out of the blue, I wouldn’t be entirely sure what he meant. It doesn’t line up neatly with a specific political ideology the way “Capitalism is exploitation” does.

      Which leads me to ask again, what is the context here? In the “Poison the Water” thread, James seems to have been alluding to some conversation they had earlier, but I don’t know what or where it was.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg
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        says:

        Well, the pejorative use of “coercion” is pretty strictly a libertarian thing, but “Democracy is coercion” isn’t a libertarian slogan.Report

      • NobAkimoto NobAkimoto in reply to Brandon Berg
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        says:

        I dunno dude…when someone says “I was coerced into signing that deed…” I don’t think there’s any lack of negative connotation there.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Brandon Berg
        Ignored
        says:

        Brandon,

        I’ve had several prior discussions with LWA, but the particular relevant one was some months ago. I’m not good at finding prior discussions or I’d happily link to it. But in it he was essentially arguing that if society willed it, it couldn’t be a violation of anyone’s rights.

        The other thread was last week, in which he made a string of false assertions about libertarianism, including the suggestion that libertarianism was necessarily based on utilitarianism, that therefore it could have no moral basis, and therefore libertarians had to be neutral about all market outcomes.

        As one example, he said “agnosticism about moral values is the chief claim and pride of libertarians.”

        He also made the ridiculous claim that “There isn’t any logical or utilitarian argument against cannibalism or animal cruelty.” He wasn’t even specifically saying libertarianism couldn’t make an argument against animal cruelty, but that there is no logical argument against it, period.

        So the context here is that LWA has a track record of making false claims about libertarianism, and in general of repeatedly demonstrating his ignorance about political and moral theory.

        But the comment that started the particular discussion that led to this was was here. In it he once again makes the intellectually sloppy mistake of selecting from a biased sample and assuming it represents what libertarianism is really about, and also indicates that only extremist libertarians could possibly believe that democracy necessarily involves coercion.

        As you say, “democracy is coercion” is not really a libertarian slogan. Once again, LWA misrepresents libertarianism. But he also misrepresents the fact that the inherently coercive nature of democratic government–because it is government, and all government is inherently coercive–is not an extremist position at all. It is very mainstream, essentially undeniable by any serious person.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Brandon Berg
        Ignored
        says:

        Value neutrality is a liberal thing, not just a libertarian thing. Lots of non-libertarian liberals think that coercive policies should be justifiable to all.

        This is a good paper. I don’t agree with all of it necessarily, but LWA should read it.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Brandon Berg
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        says:

        Murali, yes, how could I forget to mention you as one of our folks who knows truckloads more about moral theory than me!? I’m embarrassed.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Road Scholar
      Ignored
      says:

      The thing is, @road-scholar , as I tried to make clear in my OP, is that both the positive and negative connotations of coercion are at play here. I’ll give you the same challenge I gave zic–if you don’t think there’s negative coercion in democracy, then I want to hear you explain why the majority vote for Prop 8 in California was good.

      But I also went to pains to emphasize that what makes a state a state in Weber’s definition is legitimate coercion. And everyone who’s obsessing over the negative connotations of the term coercion seem to be glossing right over the term legitimate. What do I need to do to get any of y’all to actually read that word?Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Well, one can legitimately exploit things and illegitimately do so, too.

        Legitimacy is one of those things that’s very difficult to define, and I think Weber has a rather tautological definition. Thus people fixate on the words after it, because they’re easier to quibble with.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        I agree. In fact I don’t think Weber seriously broached the issue of trying to define legitimacy, or operationalize it so we could recognize it, or explain how it comes about. It’s rather like obscenity.Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to Road Scholar
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      says:

      That analogy is not very good, because in order for it to be true you have to accept the labor theory of value, which is an explicitly Marxist conception.

      The whole point of the OP is that a wide range of political theorists accept the basic premise that government is coercive.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to j r
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        says:

        I think Road Scholar is relying on the fact that exploit means to make use of (e.g., “I exploited the internet to find a dictionary definition of exploit”) but that you would assume its use implies the Marxist meaning. In that sense, I think the analogy is fair.

        Where it fails, I think, is that I was quite explicit in the OP about coercion being used positively–legitimate use of force–whereas his analogy wholly relies on not being explicit about the more positive meaning of “exploit.”

        The term itself could be a good analogy, but his use of it was not analogous to my use of coercion.Report

      • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to j r
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        says:

        Thanks, @james-hanley , that’s correct. And I should have been more explicit that I’m not arguing against your OP. Sorry for the confusion.Report

  16. Avatar LWA
    Ignored
    says:

    Maybe a more interesting point (interesting to me, at least) is what makes coercion legitimate?

    Or what makes something Right, or Good, or Correct, or whatever term we want to give it?

    For most cultures, there is a set of agreed-upon moral values that form the backbone of legitimacy.

    As I mentioned in the other thread, this is just irrational* faith, even when practiced by atheists or secular deists.

    So when we use coercion to prevent cruelty to dogs, in Western culture this is legitimate, because dogs enjoy quasi-sacred status.

    But if a city used coercion to prevent cruelty to chickens? In many people’s minds, this is illegitimate coercion, since chickens are merely property.

    Again, there isn’t any real scientific logic to this- its entirely a case of society imposing one set of moral values on others.

    Aside from faith based postulates, how can any society determine legitimacy of its coercion?Report

    • Avatar Patrick in reply to LWA
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      says:

      Read that post I linked to up above. Roger, Stillwater, and I all agreed that we got somewhere in the comments. It’s one of the blinding moments of the mission of the blog working, to me anyway.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to LWA
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      says:

      Again, LWA, you’re dabbling in moral theory without bothering to recognize that people actually work on those questions. We call them philosophers. And most philosophers I’ve known would take issue with your claim that our moral precepts are entirely irrational. True, it’s not scientific knowledge, but there’s not a binary variable with the categories “science” and “irrationality.”Report

      • Avatar LWA in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        You are correct- there is in fact a large body of work on this.

        Do you know of one that offers a superior model to the consensus based democracy at issue here?Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        LWA,
        America is not a pure democracy, it’s a Republic. And I rather enjoy it’s system, with checks and balances.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @lwa
        As I said in our prior discussion, I’m not a good moral theorist myself. It’s not my strong point at all. I suggest asking someone who can give you good pointers, rather than rely on a hack like me.

        I think either Jason Kuznicki or Chris could give you better direction than I could. And there are probably others here whom I’ve inadvertently dissed by not recommending (sorry, y’all).Report

      • Avatar Citizen in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        “Do you know of one that offers a superior model to the consensus based democracy at issue here?”

        If you could take the Venetian Republic parameters of sortition and implant that into the American Republic model, I would propose that would be a better model. Legitimacy and decoupling of renting seeking being the primary reasons.

        I don’t perceive that the checks and balances has survived corrupting influence.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        Interesting, @citizen

        Tell us more!Report

      • Avatar Citizen in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Glue first.Report

      • Avatar Citizen in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Kohole:
        “If my time in Afghanistan taught me one thing, is that there’s a lot of invisible glue that holds society together in America and in the West that everyone takes for granted.”Report

      • Avatar Citizen in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Factional resistant sortition coupled to a citizen oriented Republic may have some legs. It only depends if the glue is a product of the individual or the state.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to LWA
      Ignored
      says:

      @lwa

      I’d like to post this link again and bring it to your attention:

      http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2381238?uid=3738992&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21104062340417

      It is a good paper. Go read it.Report

      • Avatar LWA in reply to Murali
        Ignored
        says:

        Thanks! I read it and it is very interesting.
        But he is addressing a slightly different topic- I am not sure its liberal neutrality I am attacking to begin with, and definitely not on grounds of excessive individualism.

        What I am attacking is a bit more foundational- the notion that a state ranking of moral values is somehow illegitimate.

        That is, I assert that it is not only legitimate but necessary for any state, even the most minimal, to set out (preferably by consensus) a set of moral values, and enforce them coercively.

        Which at first blush sounds pretty “sticky” or controversial, to some.
        But if you think “moral values” are concepts like the existence of rights, the value of human life, and freedom, then it probably sounds more reasonable.

        Where it gets much more problematic, is when we move on to things that don’t seem so self-evident, and don’t have the benefit of consensus- concepts like the human-ness of embryos.
        Whose moral values get given privileged status, and why?

        I assert that there simply isn’t any way to perfect this flawed process- yet while it is entirely problematic, I am not aware of a better one.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Murali
        Ignored
        says:

        “Where it gets much more problematic, is when we move on to things that don’t seem so self-evident, and don’t have the benefit of consensus- concepts like the human-ness of embryos.
        Whose moral values get given privileged status, and why?

        I assert that there simply isn’t any way to perfect this flawed process- yet while it is entirely problematic, I am not aware of a better one.”

        Seems like a perfect opportunity for some political philosopher to recommend a narrow focus to government and thus to minimize the “problematic” nature of the endeavor.

        That’s just me thinkin out loud though.Report

      • Avatar LWA in reply to Murali
        Ignored
        says:

        Actually I agree- there isn’t any point to having government handle problems it doesn’t need to.

        But of course, all the work is in those last two words.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Murali
        Ignored
        says:

        @roger — Well, speaking from my context, non-government agents also have power, and seem quite eager to use it, often to ends just as wretched as any government. Under this scheme, I suggest that government power is neither in general a good nor a bad thing. It will always depend on the exact moment in history.

        Short version: Jim Crow laws were acts of government, as was the Civil Rights Act.

        Power exists; we have to deal with it. Power within government exists, and we can address that through certain means, for example elections. Power outside of government also exists. We can address that through different means, such as consciousness raising narratives. Both are locations of struggle.

        Either form of power can ruin my life.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Murali
        Ignored
        says:

        @veronica-dire

        I don’t want to get lost in the sticky word of “power.” Let me just add that the problem with coercion is, as I wrote above, a subcategory of “Harm”.

        Humans have, since well before the advent of history, recognized that the threat of harm, when channeled effectively, can be used to repress harm. Fighting fire with fire. Thus coercion can be used for good, as long as it is aimed back at itself.Report

  17. Avatar DRS
    Ignored
    says:

    I begin to think that the only acceptable responses to a James Hanley post are the following:

    “You’re absolutely right!”

    “Brilliant, James! How do you do it!?!?!?”

    “Wow, man, you should be writing for the Times or something, that’s AWESOME!!!!!”

    Because he certainly seems not to like reading anything else.Report

  18. Avatar zic
    Ignored
    says:

    It’s occurred to me that everyone who’s objecting to the word coercion because of that baggage is actually trying to rescue LWA’s hypothesis, that democracy isn’t coercive.

    Agency matters here (as @nob-akimoto pointed out). Coercion doesn’t just happen as a general state, it happens in specifics.

    I listed the synonyms above; and read through dozens of dictionary definitions. You’ve relied on the one that supports your preferred meaning, and while that may be legitimate, your arguments strike me as coercive — we must all accept this meaning you want even though it goes against the grain of commonly understood meanings and nuance; and if we don’t we’re accepting LWA’s argument that Democracy is not coercive. You’re dancing in the nuance of the meaning while eliminating LWA’s argument to the dustbin of binaries.

    The general statement ‘democracy is coercive’ may be true, but and I would not say it is coercive; I would say specific government actions may or may not be coercive; and link the coercion to the action. The agency matters; the qualifiers matter. The same distinction would be that you are not a bad person for promulgating this bit of miscommunication, but promulgating this miscommunication strikes me as a bad action on your part, one designed to provide cover to people who want to delegitimize the democratic process. See the difference?

    I stand by what I originally said: the word is sticky, it has baggage; and that baggage matters. Anyone wanting to communicate clearly should be aware of that.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to zic
      Ignored
      says:

      we must all accept this meaning you want even though it goes against the grain of commonly understood meanings and nuance;

      See, I fundamentally disagree with you here. I cited two different on-line dictionaries, just basic everyday dictionaries that average people would turn to, and both of those fit my usage–one talks about authority, the other talks about the police.

      You, on the other hand, chose a legal definition, which is going to be more restricted than a general definition, less in line with “commonly understood meanings” than an average dictionary, and of course is going to emphasize the illegal aspects of coercion.

      Seriously, zic, if I can choose two different on-line dictionaries–the two that popped up at the top of my google search, and both support my use of the term, then the argument that I’m not using a commonly understood definition of the term just won’t fly, especially if the evidence you bring against it is a more specialized dictionary.Report

  19. Avatar zic
    Ignored
    says:

    You distort. I linked to the legal dictionary because of the list of antonyms, and I said that. I also included Miriam Webster. After our initial debate, I read through all definitions I could find thinking to respond, but you’d treated me rudely enough that I opted out.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to zic
      Ignored
      says:

      Misthreaded, a reply to @james-hanley above.

      Oxford: The practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats

      Oxford US English synonyms: force, compulsion, constraint, duress, oppression, enforcement, harassment, intimidation, threats, arm-twisting, pressure

      This feels far away from Democracy:

      Oxford: A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives

      Oxford US English Synonyms: representative government, elective government; self-government, government by the people; republic, commonwealth

      Oxford Antonym: Dictartorship

      Oxford Dictatorship definition: absolute rule, undemocratic rule, despotism, tyranny, autocracy, autarchy, authoritarianism, totalitarianism, fascism; oppression, repression

      The definition of ‘Dictatorship’ and ‘Coercion’ seem more akin to my ears.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        Oxford: The practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats

        As noted in the OP, all governments, even democracies, which were Weber’s focus, use force. Their distinguishing characteristic is that they can legitimately use force, but force it remains.

        And what is “we will arrest and imprison you if you do X” if not a threat?

        Oxford US English synonyms: force, compulsion,

        Do democracies force and compel us to obey the decisions of the majority?

        constraint, duress,

        Are we not constrained to obey? Do democracies through their police forces not constrain us if we do not? Is the person who would like to fill in wetlands so they can build on the spot not under duress not to do so?

        oppression,

        Are you disputing the potential for tyranny of the majority? The research by Barbara Gamble that I discussed previously shows that the public is far more likely to pass initiatives and referenda that restrict some group’s civil liberties than they are to pass initiatives in general. Are you arguing that the restriction of minority groups’ civil liberties is not a form of oppression?

        enforcement,

        Show me a democracy without enforcement. Just one.

        harassment, intimidation,

        Perhaps not these. Perhaps.

        threats, arm-twisting, pressure

        All of these at various times.

        This feels far away from Democracy:

        Oxford: A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives

        It’s not far away at all. Just because the government is by the whole population does not mean the whole population is equally influential or equally protected by the decisions. Democracy is not a system of consensus, but a system of majority rule. Republicans whined because ACA passed on a strictly party line vote, but that’s just tough shit for them, right? It was a democratic vote, and the majority won. (I’m not arguing the Republicans are oppressed because of ACA, just that ACA was democratic, despite nothing approaching consensus.)

        Back to Gamble’s research again. An initiative is direct democracy, as pure a form of democracy as we have. It’s truly governance by “all the eligible members of the state,” but as she shows, one of the outcomes of that direct democracy is that over 3/4 of the initiatives to restrict certain groups’ civil liberties were passed.

        I ask you, how is that not both democracy and oppression, oppression through democracy?

        Oxford Antonym: Dictartorship

        Oxford Dictatorship definition: absolute rule, undemocratic rule, despotism, tyranny, autocracy, autarchy, authoritarianism, totalitarianism, fascism; oppression, repression

        The definition of ‘Dictatorship’ and ‘Coercion’ seem more akin to my ears.

        Absolute rule necessarily involves coercion, but that doesn’t mean coercion involves absolute rule. It doesn’t even require rule at all. It’s been generally agreed upon here that there is coercion outside of government as well, so clearly coercion is not limited to cases of absolute rule.

        Tyranny? I’m bemused that you toss that out as being contrary to democracy despite the OP’s references to tyranny of the majority, and my comment reference to Barbara Gamble’s work. You’re making claims, but you’re not providing any real argument or evidence for why I should think Madison, Adams, de Tocqueville and Gamble are all wrong about tyranny of the majority in democracy.

        Is democracy less coercive than dictatorship? Generally, yes, and we can be glad of that. The coercion democracies exercise is more likely to be for the protection of the citizens than for harm to them, compared to a dictatorship. But that doesn’t mean the coercion–both good coercion and bad coercion–is absent from a democracy. It doesn’t even mean it’s separable from democracy.

        Most of the synonyms for coercion that you found are applicable to democracy. If you want to persuade me that democracy isn’t coercive, you have to do two things:

        1. Explain how enforcement of democratically authorized laws and public policies is not coercion (even when it’s the good kind of coercion). I’m not sure how you’ll do this, since your own list shows enforcement and coercion as synonyms.

        2. Explain to me how Gamble’s work fails to empirically demonstrate the existence of coercion as tyranny of the majority, as–in one of your synonyms–oppression.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        First of all, I only quoted, I did not edit the selections you’re calling my selections, so you are attributing to me an argument I did not in any way make. I compared the meanings of dictionaries to synonyms and antonyms, and observed that ‘coercion’ seems more akin to the antonym of ‘democracy’ than it does to the synonyms of ‘democracy,’ and suggested to use ‘coercion’ as a way of signaling the benefits of enforcing social compacts opens the door to confusion about actual meaning.

        1. Explain how enforcement of democratically authorized laws and public policies is not coercion (even when it’s the good kind of coercion). I’m not sure how you’ll do this, since your own list shows enforcement and coercion as synonyms.

        I never said it is not coercion. But I am arguing that most people (the majority) comply by those laws without coercion; the coercion mostly happens when some people don’t comply with those laws; and people rightful agitate against coercion to change laws when they don’t feel the social compact is fair.

        2. Explain to me how Gamble’s work fails to empirically demonstrate the existence of coercion as tyranny of the majority, as–in one of your synonyms–oppression.

        We seem to do a remarkable job of writing documents that enumerate inalienable rights, and sticking to them, though the documents themselves are a work in progress and we agree to keep fine tuning them. The documents are constitutions and the rule of law, which generally outline how we will conduct the social contracts to benefit (hopefully) the majority of individuals to the maximum amount of freedom by both protecting individual activity within reasonable boundaries and by pooling resources to benefit most members of the society. In answer to Gamble, I’d say that constitutions frequently protect the rights of minorities and that, over the last 100 years, humans have had an incredible track record in expanding and promoting individual human rights, though there are still horrific violations.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        To add a sentence to 1): Willingly complying with a social compact because it provides haven for you and yours may feel coerced on the edges, but would not, be viewed as coercive, but as social norms, as cooperative.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        That constitutional protection of rights business, those were added to the Constitution because of fear of democratic coercion; explicitly constraints on democracy. And people go to the courts on a regular basis because the demos or its representatives keep voting to violate those rights despite those prohibitions. And frequently when the courts rule against the law in question there are complaints that they’ve overridden the will of the majority. Not for nothing do constitutional scholars speak of judicial review as a “counter majoritarian difficulty.” You’re relying now on the system’s constraints on democracy as your defense of democracy, which is problematic.

        By the way, you complain that I was rude, but I’d like to respond that the way you played editor was very condescending, and attempted to revise the meaning and substance of my post on the guise of a mere recommendation of word choice. I was reminded of an editor I had for an article about 9/11 who kept insisting we use the term “new kind of war” to refer in place if “suicide terrorism.” I kept pointing out that not only was suicide terrorism not new, but the phrase would give a normative emphasis to a paper that was otherwise purely objective. A good editor should not try to change the substance of the argument–or maybe in journalism, but not in my world. And to jump in without invitation to try to change the substance, and then sniffly say you were just trying to be my (uninvited and unneeded) editor, was arrogant, and, as I said, condescending. I’m not sure why you’d be surprised it was met with rudeness. I’ve noticed that every time I’m arrogantly condescending, I tend to get rude replies as well. Go figure.Report

  20. Avatar Stillwater
    Ignored
    says:

    This quote from Weber is interesting to me.

    Today, however, we have to say that a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory…

    I think it’s an improvement over identifying the state as merely government, but it also moves the debate – maybe! – to some unintended places.

    Suppose that the new expansive Stand Your Ground laws which include no duty to retreat as well as extensions of Castle laws to property other than your own became the Law of the Land. If so, then “the community” which could exercise that monopoly on the use of legitimate force includes not only cops but citizens as well. Or in other words, “the state” includes not only the (definitionally coercive) formal government apparatus but the citizenry as well. If so (and I don’t know it is so), that’s a distinction most people who argue from the premise that the state is fundamentally coercive wouldn’t be inclined to grant. Weber included, it seems to me. Unless the premise to his argument is that the use of force itself legitmates (in some sense of that word) the monopolization of that use. But I don’t think anyone would argue the mere use of force constitutes a justification for a monopolization of that use of force. Rather, the argument tends to go the other way: that force can be causally sufficient to attain and enforce a monopoly on challenges to that use of force.

    I dunno. Just throwing that out there.Report

  21. Avatar Shazbot3
    Ignored
    says:

    Re: the idea that silly and dumb avergae libertarians don’t represent libertarianism.

    It is actually the founders of libertarianism who hold absurdly radical doctrines. Nozick’s “Tale of the Slave” is meant to illustrate that democracy is slavery. And I don’t think he means “slavery” in a neutral “Hanley-coercion” way. (Anarchy, State, and Utopia p.290 IIRC)

    So yes there are a few kook liberals. But the core doctrine is not kooky. The same cannot be said for libertarianism.

    A similar point is true of Marxism (which I respect, but disagree with as a bit kooky). The doctrine of Marxism is represented by those who laid out its core principles. You can deviate from those principles a bit and be a Marxist, but if you deviate too far and become less radical, you are a Marxist in name only.

    I’d say lots of non-radicals are libertarians in name only in the same way.

    But at any rate, the core doctrine of libertarianism does take a radical position on democracy. LWA believes that this is a powerful reductio ad absurdum, I think, of libertarianism. I’d agree, but a lot of details would need to be hashed out.Report

    • Avatar LWA in reply to Shazbot3
      Ignored
      says:

      I would say that the more libertarianism struggles to separate itself from Wall Street Republicanism, the more it moves into kooky territory.

      This is, in my view, because “kooky” means “not sharing ideas that are foundational to the larger culture”.

      For instance, the libertarian themes of self-ownership and voluntary association stand in stark contrast to the Abrahamic tradition of solidarity and duty to community, and the dignity of the human person.

      We see this in the Good Samaritan arguments (is there a duty to give aid?)- we see it in debates about prostitution and organ markets (Does the human person have an intrinsic value which must be respected?) We see it in discussions of taxation and regulation (Can the individual engage with the community solely at his choice, or are there legitimately mandatory obligations?).

      Republicanism usually embraces the Abrahamic traditions, and their positive rights and liens upon the individual. The more anyone rejects that, the more they sound oddly out of tune with our larger culture, and, well, kooky.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to LWA
        Ignored
        says:

        “not sharing ideas that are foundational to the larger culture”.

        Out of curiosity, what’s your opinion on the death penalty?

        As for things like supporting gay marriage and advocating for ending the war on drugs, well… yeah. It would sound crazy to support such a thing if the culture at large opposed it, wouldn’t it?

        But, sometimes, starting from foundational principles gets you to some really nutball conclusions.Report

  22. Avatar Shazbot3
    Ignored
    says:

    Not sure I agree with this, but there is more on the tension between libertarianism and belief in democracy here:

    http://www.salon.com/2011/08/30/lind_libertariansim/

    Again, the similarities with Marxism are fascinating.Report

  23. Avatar Shazbot3
    Ignored
    says:

    Chris,

    Down here.

    Are you saying you are not liberal, conservative, Marxist, libertarian, or centrist? And you are not “above” (and sorry for the derisive-sounding term, maybe “outside of” is better) the dispute?Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Shazbot3
      Ignored
      says:

      If that is the extent of your political universe, I have some books for you that are going to blow your mind. But no, I am not any of those things, though you’ve finally mentioned something in the neighborhood. I can’t imagine why you would care (you could just listen to what I say, if you find me interesting, which I’m not saying you do), but I will probably be writing about some of my views soon (for the work symposium, if nothing else).Report

  24. Avatar James Hanley
    Ignored
    says:

    Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates essay on reparations, and he says this:

    America begins in black plunder and white democracy, two features that are not contradictory but complementary.

    Relevant to this discussion, I think.Report

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