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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Proposal: Version 356

My proposal has undergone a bit of a makeover, to make it more attractive for the academic palate (it should be on its way to some unknown Faculty Committee for the final approval). Personally, I'm sick to death of the 2000+ word document, but, hey, you might be interested. Or you might not, and rather be staring at Zurich's natural wonders (If you are at work or a straight female, you may not want to go there. Then again, if you are reading a blog about the abolition of the State and an unhealthy obsession with a board game at work, you may also be heading for an economic crisis).

So, if radical poltical philosophy and ethics are your forte (and not twenty-somethings out for good, clean fun in an enchanting town of clocks and banks), here is the final version of the proposal. Have fun.

Title of Proposed Master's Thesis: Justification of the State and Anarchist Alternatives
Department: Philosophy
Course: MA by dissertation
Expected length of thesis: 45,000 to 50,000 words

Political philosophy begins with the question, why a State at all, why not another form of social organisation? Why not some type of anarchy?

Justification of the State and Anarchist Alternatives will examine the question, 'Why, if at all, should the State exist?' The answer would seem to be that the State is a just form of social organisation, that the State’s existence is morally justified.

Justification of the State and Anarchist Alternatives is not that interested in the prudential justification of the State mostly because of a presupposed primacy of morals and partly because human beings have existed comfortably outside of the State, which is a fairly modern invention given the 150,000 years of human existence. Even in more modern times, human beings have lived in States of Nature without destroying themselves; for example, the anarcho-syndicalist communities in Republican Spain (1936-1939) were able to provide public goods such as power, bread, transport and protection (although, admittedly, for a short period of time). Furthermore, it is worth pointing out that while a given person may have a self-interested reason for the State (a prudential justification), this is different from looking at what society’s (and all the individuals within) reason for the State is. It is the latter case (moral justification) that the proposed thesis will examine. For example, a plantation owner may have a prudential justification for a slave-owning state (it has an economic system that allows him to ‘flourish’), but the wider society (which includes all the slaves) does not have the same sort of justification. In this situation, it could be said that society has no moral justification for choosing a slave-owning state as its preferred form of social organisation.

And neither is Justification of the State and Anarchist Alternatives interested in justification in the legal sense. States, as will be briefly pointed out in the thesis, often give themselves legal justification (often referred to as legal legitimacy) through constitutions. This legal justification doesn't answer the wider, ethical question of why a State at all—a State claiming to be just because of it declares to be so is a hardly compelling reason to climb down from the barricades—and, anyway, totalitarian dictatorships (complete with death camps) can be given a legal justification by mere virtue of having a constitution.

So, if there is philosophically relevant reason to form and continue in States, it would seem to have to be a moral reason; i.e. the answer to, 'Is the State justified?', has to be ground in ethics. Arguments for and against the State's moral justification fall under four broad ethical traditions; 1) Utilitarianism, 2) Eudemonia or Perfectionism, 3) Egoist/Hobbesian, and 4) Natural Rights. To obtain focus, Justification of the State and Anarchist Alternatives will examine only one of these arguments, that of eudemonia. Why? Partly because it is the path less trod. The other approaches have received a fair amount of attention since, well, Hobbes and Locke's day. The problems of Hobbesian style arguments (arguments involving contracts, tacit, express and hypothetical) have been known since David Hume's famous critique, and, anyway, Hobbes’s argument is a prudential, egotist argument and hence is not relevant to this project. In regards to utilitarianism, Godwin made a compelling case against the State in Enquiry Concerning Political Justice back in 1793, despite his unrealistic alternative form of social organisation. Locke, Kant and, more recently, Nozick have all done a fair amount of work on the Natural Rights approach to determining the justification of the State, and have received an equal (if not more) amount of argument.

However, there also seems to be something quite compelling about Aristotle's (and his intellectual descendants') argument: Human beings cannot maximally flourish, cannot be all that they can, as virtuous agents outside of the State. It is the State that best provides the necessary conditions (wealth, security, education, friends, opportunity) for human beings to flourish. If living the good life is a good (maybe the best) thing and if organising human societies into States is the best method of obtaining the good life, then this a very strong reason to declare the State just. Please note that this is not equivalent to a utilitarian argument; it is possible to have a flourishing but distinctly unhappy, frustrating life, as many philosophers might attest to. The good life does not necessary equate to a happy life, and it is worth remembering Alfred Naquet's remarks in L'Anarchie et le Collectivisme:

“The true rôle of collective to learn, to discover, to know. Eating, drinking, sleeping, living, in a word, is a mere accessory. In this respect, we are not distinguished from the brute. Knowledge is the goal. If I were condemned to choose between a humanity materially happy, glutted after the manner of a flock of sheep in a field, and a humanity existing in misery, but from which emanated, here and there, some eternal truth, it is on the latter that my choice would fall.”[1]

While this argument will be examined in Justification of the State and Anarchist Alternatives, both in relation to the State and alternative forms of social organisation (where the question well may be, can human beings flourish in the State of Nature? If so, then why the State and all of its inconveniences?). Out of all the possible anarchic forms of social organisation, Justification of the State and Anarchist Alternatives will examine primitivism, anarchocapitalism, anarcho-syndicalism, and technoanarchism. First, each of these anarchistic alternatives will first be defined and then examined in terms of its ability to promote human flourishing relative to that of the State’s ability. But, before either the State or its anarchic alternatives can be examined, it might help to know what the State essentially is.

Somewhat surprisingly—given that political philosophy's traditional subject matter, from Plato on, has been about the State—definitions of the State in the philosophical literature seem to be far and few in between. In fact, whole undergraduate courses in political philosophy can be taught, quite successfully, without ever broaching the topic. Why? Maybe it doesn't occur to define what is so pervasive. Almost no one on this planet lives outside of one State or another. Almost everyone has been brought up in States, been told to obey the State since childhood, life outside of a State has long since passed from living memory, and almost all of our social activities deal with governments and their policies to one degree or another; what is so basic has become invisible precisely because it is fundamental in the modern life.

What is a State? A State is a form of social organisation that essentially has:

a) a defined territory
b) a population
c) a government that has a claim to the use of force
d) a hierarchical structure.

This definition was arrived at by combining the definition in the Montevideo Convention of 1933 with a simplified form of Max Weber's classic definition regarding the successful claim of a monopoly on the use of legitimate force, and then adding the notion of hierarchy.[2]

This definition will be elaborated on, the consequences of its four planks laid out, if you will excuse the pun, and then will be defended against rival definitions; for example, Max Weber’s classic definition that, “The state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of force within a given territory”[3], and David Copp's definition that, “The state is the system of animated institutions that govern the territory and its residents, and that administer and enforce the legal system and carry out the programs of government.”[4]

This definition will also be used to show the difference between the State and the State of Nature, and some of the different forms of the State of Nature; tribes, warlords, empires, etc.. Also at this point in the thesis the notion of anarchy in general will be presented (specific forms of anarchic social organisation will be discussed after the State has been subject to investigation, as previously mentioned), and Peter Kropotkin's 1910 definition in “The Encyclopaedia Britannica” most likely still holds true. This general definition will only help to frame the later discussion on primitivism, anarchocapitalism, etc. Essentially, this will help to distinguish anarchy as a State of Nature from Hobbes's notorious State of Nature.

Armed with these definitions and an ethical theory (eudemonia), Justification of the State and Anarchist Alternatives will attempt to determine whether the State is just and whether alternatives to the State are better equipped to promote human flourishing. In sum, Justification of the State and Anarchist Alternatives will consist of four parts:

1. An introduction explaining the central aim of the project; to determine the moral justification of the State in terms of eudemonia and whether an anarchic alternative is better suited to achieve human flourishing. This introduction will clarify what it means for the State to be morally justified, explain the importance of alternative to the State, and provide a rationale for the project (why this is a subject worthy of pursuit).

2. This second section will define the State, defend this definition, and explain the consequences of this definition. Furthermore, the State of Nature will be defined and some its many forms examined; this will include a discussion of when a State becomes something else, i.e. what the limits of the definition are. This section will attempt to push the envelope regarding the definition of the State to see where it breaks down; for example, “Is a church a state?” or “Is an empire a state?”

3. In the third section, the concept of human flourishing will be explained, what the argument for the State is, and whether this holds, especially in regards to the definition of State as elaborated in Section 2. In particular, this and the next section will focus on the worst-case ‘flourishers’ within a particular form of social organisation.

4. The last part of Justification of the State and Anarchist Alternatives will attempt to determine whether any of four anarchic alternatives (primitivism, anarchocapitalism, anarcho-syndicalism, and technoanarchism) are superior forms of social organisation in regards to promoting the good life of human flourishing; i.e. whether they are more morally justified than the State.

This is an important undertaking, for it strikes at the heart of all that we are. From birth to death, our lives are shaped by the State. It demands strict obedience to the law, even to the point of demanding, at the point of a bayonet, that we wear a uniform, pick up a rifle and kill our fellow man. There seems to be something awfully suspicious about the current situation, and the mainstream liberal approach has been to invoke the mantel of reform; representative democracy over monarchy, bills of right vs. arbitrary whims of dictators, socialism vs. capitalism, forty-hour week vs. serfdom, and so forth. All well and good, but what if there is a problem in the actual basic structure, in our choice of social organisation, of the State? Isn't that worth evaluating? True human flourishing might be possible only for individuals free from the State, not bound to it in life and death. For as Emma Goldman once said:

“Real wealth consists in things of utility and beauty, in things that help to create strong, beautiful bodies and surroundings inspiring to live in. But if man is doomed to wind cotton around a spool, or dig coal, or build roads for thirty years of his life, there can be no talk of wealth. What he gives to the world is only gray and hideous things, reflecting a dull and hideous existence—too weak to live, too cowardly to die. Strange to say, there are people who extol this deadening method of centralized production as the proudest achievement of our age. They fail utterly to realize that if we are to continue in machine subserviency, our slavery is more complete than was our bondage to the King.”[5]

Selected Bibliography for Justification of the State and Anarchist Alternatives:

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics (
Aristotle. Politics (
Barnett, Randy E. The Structure of Liberty (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998)
Bookchin, Murray. Remaking Society (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1989)
Bookchin, Murray. The Ecology of Freedom (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1991 rev. ed.)
Brink, David O. Perfectionism and the Common Good (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)
Chomsky, Noam. “Notes on Anarchism” (Spunk Library, 1970)
Copp, David. “The Idea of a Legitimate State” in Philosophy & Public Affairs 28, no. 1 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999)
Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle (New York: Zone Books, 1967)
George, Robert. Making Men Moral (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995)
Goldman, Emma. Anarchism and Other Essays (New York: Mother Earth Publishing Association, 1917 rev. 3rd edition, found at
Hurka, Tom. Perfectionism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996)
Koestler, Arthur. The Ghost in the Machine (New York: Macmillan, 1967)
Kropotkin, Peter. “Anarchism” (The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1910)
Kropotkin, Peter. Mutual Aid (, 1902)
“Montevideo Convention of 1933” (
Morris, Christopher W. An Essay on the Modern State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)
Nozick, Robert. Anarchy, State, and Utopia (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1974)
Raymond, Eric Steven. The Cathedral and the Bazaar (, 2001)
Russell, Bertrand. Proposed Roads to Freedom (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1919)
Rocker, Rudolph. Anarchosyndicalism (London: Secker & Warburg, 1938)
Simmons, John A. Moral Principles and Political Obligation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979)
Tabensky, Pedro. Happiness: Personhood, Community, Purpose (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003)
Tolstoy, Leo. The Kingdom of God in Yourselves (, 1892)
Weber, Max. “Politics as a Vocation”, a lecture at Munich University, 1918 (found at


[1]Alfred Naquet, L'Anarchie et le Collectivisme, Paris 1904. Quoted in Bertrand Russell, Proposed Roads to Freedom (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1919), pg. 165
[2]This last notion is sometimes overlooked in discussions on the State—maybe also because it is so pervasive—and may be the most troublesome for human beings seeking to flourish. The sort of hierarchy inherent in the State may just prove to be the greatest obstacle to human flourishing.
Also, and as an aside, sovereignty is a tricky and not necessary condition for statehood, and, hence, has been rejected. For example, sovereignty in a State may be divided (like in Iran) or the State may be so weak in regions of its territory that in those regions it is not the sovereign power (parts of DRC, Uganda, etc.), a local warlord or drug dealer may be.
[4]David Copp, “The Idea of a Legitimate State” in Philosophy & Public Affairs 28, no. 1 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), p. 7
[5]Emma Goldman, “Anarchism: What it Really Stands For” in Anarchism and Other Essays (New York: Mother Earth Publishing Association, 1917 rev. 3rd edition), found at



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