On Governance, State, and the Institutions of Justice
Thus far in these essays, I have argued from my metaphilosophy to my general philosophy of commensurablism, which is any philosophy that is neither dogmatic nor cynical, and neither transcendent nor relativist.
Then I explored the implications of commensurablism on the philosophy of language, including both logic and rhetoric; and its implications concerning reality and knowledge, including ontology, mind, epistemology, and education.
Then I began exploring its implications on the specific subtopics of philosophy concerning morality and justice, beginning with axiology, will, and deontology.
In this essay I will now conclude that series concerning morality and justice by exploring the implications of that liberal deontology on the philosophy of governance.
I will address political philosophy, or the philosophy of governance, as an analogue to the philosophy of education. Where the latter is concerned with the social institutions of knowledge, especially as they relate to the epistemic authorities called religions, philosophy of governance as I mean it here it is concerned with the social institutions of justice, especially as they relate to the deontic authorities called states.
As should already be clear from my previous essays on justice and especially against dogmatism, I am broadly against the validity of any supposed deontic authority, and so against the deontic legitimacy of any state, where that term is understood to mean some institute that claims such authority. (The traditional definition of a state, in political science and political philosophy, is an institute that claims a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, which I take as equivalent to claiming such deontic authority, inasmuch as such a monopoly amounts to a claim that all and only their commands must be obeyed and that disobedience thereto justifies punishment, the application of violence). To recap the argument for that position:
- The task of philosophy is to find a way of discerning correct answers from incorrect answers to questions of any kind, whether about what is real or true or existent, or about what is moral or good or valuable.
- The position that there is always a question as to which opinion, and whether or to what extent any opinion, is correct, is to be called "criticism", and its negation "dogmatism".
- If we assume dogmatism rather than criticism, then in case our opinions do happen to be incorrect after all, we will never find out, because we never question them, and we will remain incorrect forever.
- Therefore to successfully do philosophy at all we must at least tacitly assume criticism, rejecting dogmatism.
This position against the validity of any supposed deontic authority, and so against the deontic legitimacy of any state, is generally called anarchism, specifically philosophical anarchism. But such philosophical anarchism does not mean that I am against all or necessarily any of the prescriptive claims issued forth by such institutions; only that I am against them being taken as authoritative simply for being issued by such institutions. And just because I am against any such institution being taken as deontically authoritative does not mean that I am against all social institutions seeking to promote justice.
I am very much in favor of a widespread, global collaborative process of many individuals sharing their insights into the nature of morality, checking each other's findings, and collating the resulting consensus together into the closest thing to an authoritative understanding of morality that it is possible to create, for the reference of others who have not undertaken such an exhaustive process themselves.
The proviso is simply that that resulting product should always be understood to be a work in progress, always open to question and revision – though it should in time become more and more hardened such that questions to which it does not already have answers become more and more difficult to find, and so large revisions to it become more and more difficult to make.
This is essentially analogous to the process of peer review already widely in use in contemporary academia for the purpose of building knowledge about reality. I am proposing here that a formally similar process, but grounded in the criteria for prescriptive judgement laid out in my earlier essay on value rather than the criteria for descriptive judgement laid out in my earlier essay on existence, can be used to collaboratively compile what amount to law books, rather than textbooks; still fallible, as our judgement cannot help but be, but procedurally narrowing in ever closer to a universal view of justice and morality.
As with the peer review process already laid out in my previous essay on education, this legislative process would also proceed in three broad phases. In the first phase, analogous to the creation of primary sources in a typical academic peer review process, detailed accounts are to be published, not of observations or sensations, but rather of appetites, as defined in my previous essays on value and on language. In short, people are to publish that under some specific circumstances someone experienced pain or hunger or some other such thing, detailed in such a way that others can later attempt to replicate those circumstances and see if they experience the same phenomena.
These primary sources can also share the conclusions their authors draw from their experiences – what actions or states of affairs they infer are good or bad on the basis of those experiences of things feeling good or bad – but the detailing of the experiences and the circumstances in which they were had, including the makeup of the people having the experiences (analogous to detailing of instruments used to make observations), is the most important element, so that other people can replicate those circumstances and control for differences between themselves to confirm that in such circumstances such people actually do have such experiences, reliably and repeatably.
Like the replicability of observations in typical academic peer review, this replicability of appetitive experiences is what grounds my proposed "poitical peer review" in universality, and provides a common ground against which to judge our ideas of what actions or states of affairs are good or bad, right or wrong.
In the second phase of the process, analogous to the compilation of secondary sources in typical academic peer review, groups of other people are to review and comment on the quality of that original research in media such as journals, republishing the original research that they find worthy in the process. Then in the third phase, still others are to gauge the consensus opinion held between those secondary sources on what can somewhat reliably, though of course alway still tentatively, be said about what is moral, and publish those conclusions in more accessible summary works, tertiary sources; essentially, law books.
These reference works are thus the closest things to deontically authoritative texts that are possible, the reasonable substitute for authoritative state law books traditionally taken as capable of defining what is just by fiat alone; though these tertiary sources are not to be taken so authoritatively, but understood as merely the best findings about morality that are as yet available, the strategies that have survived not only the hedonic testing of some individual researcher, but also the heavy criticism of everyone else participating in this endeavor throughout the world.
Aside from that multi-tiered process of legislation just described to produce an alternative to traditional law books, an entirely different but valuable social role that state governance traditionally serves is that of adjudication. In other words, courts, or judges: powerful and just people who are well-versed in the "authoritative" texts – a state's law books in the traditional role, but the tertiary reference books in this anarchist version – to whom laypeople can come if they have individual questions about what is right or wrong to do, or to whom parties in a dispute about that can come for mediation and adjudication.
The answers given by such a person are not to be taken on their own personal authority, but on the "authority", such as it is, of the entire global process leading to the production of the reference works to which the judge refers for their answers. Such judges should be free to choose the reference works that they find best to use in this process, and individuals or disputing parties coming to them for answers or mediation should be free to choose judges that they find best to use for their purposes, including for the reason of their choice of reference works.
Furthermore, the reference works should not be taken by the judges as infallible, and in each case it should be possible in principle – though increasingly more difficult in practice over time – to successfully challenge the claims of the reference works, and in doing so force a revision to them. In this way the entire process remains technically non-authoritative, with lay people merely choosing to invest those who they judge to be more powerful and just than themselves with a transient semblance of authority to help them better figure out what to do for themselves, or to settle arguments that they cannot settle between themselves. (How to resolve cases where different parties to the same dispute appeal to different judges for mediation is addressed later in this essay.)
Still aside from that reactive judicial role, I hold that it is also important to have, as most societies already do, more proactive correctional roles, like public patrols; but also, analogous to teachers in the academic sphere, something like life coaches or a business's in-house lawyers.
The role of such a coach, as distinct from a judge, would be to actively guide their clients to intend to do things that are probably good, according to those same collaborative works of legislation referred to by judges, rather than merely to be there to answer questions and resolve disputes as they come up. The coach provides the clients with answers to questions they hadn't even thought to ask yet, and in doing so hopefully helps to prevent disputes from coming up between them in the first place, advising their clients on how to avoid doing things that are likely to get someone else to bring their judges down to bear on them.
To keep this coach role from becoming too authoritative, though – to keep it from becoming mere command of one person by another – I think, like many political philosophers of recent centuries, that it's important to maintain a separation of the governmental roles of executive (of which the coach is one form), judiciary, and legislature; analogous to the separation of teaching, testing, and research outlined in my previous essay on education. A coach should not be advising about laws that they wrote themselves, nor judging their own clients on their compliance with them; and neither should a judge be the author of the laws against which people are judged.
Rather, the laws should be a result of the global legislative process detailed earlier in this essay; accordance with it should be judged by someone in the judicial role described above, someone well-versed in those laws; and the coaching of people to live in accordance with those laws should be done by a separate party, coaching to the same laws as the person who will later judge them, but independent of that judgement.
In this way the coach cannot, upon passing their own judgement, simply rule in favor of those doing things the coach is in favor of and against those doing contrary, but must correctly guide their clients to live in accordance with an independent system of laws that someone else, also independent of the authorship of those laws, will judge them against; and in this way no person involved in governance can exercise unbridled deontic authority over anyone.
Another more familiar role, executive in nature like that of a coach but even more proactive still, is that of public patrols, who rather than guiding only those clients who come to them seeking personal guidance, that being still a reactive process in a way, instead look out over society and step up to act against wrongs where they see them. This begins to veer dangerously close to the public patrol asserting their own deontic authority over others, and to make sure that it does not come to that, this process must wind up turning to an independent, mutually agreed-upon judge figure to settle the resulting argument, by reference to still-more-independent law books that are the product of the global legislative project detailed earlier in this essay.
But I think that it is important to have such public patrols going out and standing up to wrongs done in society, making sure someone stands up to the wrongdoers and they don't just go unchallenged, even as dangerously close to authoritarianism as that might veer, because anarchism is by its very anti-authoritarian nature paradoxically vulnerable to small pockets of deontic authority arising out of the power vacuum, and if that instability goes completely unchecked, it can easily threaten to destroy the anarchic society entirely and collapse it into a new, deontically authoritarian regime; a state in effect, even if not in name.
On Stateless Governance
In the absence of good governance of the general populace, all manner of little proto-states may still spring up, in the form of gangs, warlords, and other strongmen asserting their will over anyone else who is too weak to resist them; and left unchecked, these gangs can easily become actual full-blown states, their personal abuses of power becoming widespread, socially-acceptable injustice, that can appropriate the veneer of deontic authority and force their injustice on others under the guise of justice. Checking the spread of such injustice by challenging it in society is the role of public patrols.
The need for that role would be lessened if more people would actively seek out governance from coaches or judges as I have described them above, but not everyone will seek out their own governance and so some people will continue to spread injustice – and even those who do seek out their own governance may still accidentally spread injustice – and in that event, there need to be public patrols to stand against that. But that then veers awfully close to proposing effectively another state to counter the growth of others.
There is an apparent paradox here, in that a society abhors a power vacuum and so the only way to keep states, institutions claiming deontic authority, at bay, is in effect to have one strong enough to do so already in place. That is essentially the justification Thomas Hobbes gives for supporting absolute monarchy in his Leviathan. But I think there is still hope for liberty, in that not all states are equally authoritarian: some have their laws handed down through strict decisions and hierarchies, while others more democratically decide what they as a society demand from their citizens. I think that the best that we can hope for is a "state", or rather a (stateless) political or governmental system, that enshrines the principles of anarchism, and is structured in a way consistent with those principles.
Such a system of anarchic governance is somewhat analogous to how, in my essay on the will, I held that "will" in one sense is present in all causation, and neither something beyond causality that imposes itself upon causal chains, nor something that spontaneously arises from certain configurations of causes and effects, but nevertheless something that can be refined by certain configurations of them; and proper will per se requires such configurations and doesn't exist in just any random causal chain, but nevertheless still consists of nothing above or beyond simply refined arrangements of the same fundamental "will" omnipresent in all causation.
So too, here I hold deontic "authority" to be present in all people, and neither something beyond people that imposes itself upon people, nor something that spontaneously arises from certain configurations of people, but nevertheless something that can be refined by certain configurations of people; and proper governance requires such configurations of people and doesn't exist in just any random amalgam of people, but nevertheless still consists of nothing above or beyond simply refined arrangements of the same fundamental "authority" omnipresent in all people.
The ideal form of such a system of governance would, I think, see the judicial role described above as the central figure, to whom laypeople come with disputes to be resolved. Those judges then turn, on the one hand, to the authors of the "law books" as described above to make their rulings about what is or isn't just, who in turn turn to authors of legislative secondary sources, who in turn turn to the authors of legislative primary sources, as described above; while on the other hand the judges turn to coaches and to public patrols to enforce their rulings. When there is a dispute between two people who cannot mutually agree on one judge to resolve their conflict, they can each call upon their own separate judges to step in and resolve the argument between themselves.
If need be, if even the judges cannot reach an agreement between themselves, they can turn to yet another mutually agreed upon judge to resolve the resulting conflict between them, or else escalate further on, until at some point the argument is escalated to some parties who can work out an agreement on the matter between them, or to some mutually agreed upon arbiter who can decide the matter, and in either case then pass the decision back down the chain; unless, in the worse case scenario, an irreconcilable rift in society is discovered, in which case there is no perfect solution regardless of the system of governance we have in place.
On Pragmatic Compromise
Despite the utopian ideals detailed above, I recognize also that we should not let perfect be the enemy of good, and that the choice should not be between either a perfectly functioning anarchic governmental system or no governmental system at all, leaving in the latter case a power vacuum for the worse kinds of states to spring up unopposed. So it seems reasonable to me that there be in place a slightly-less-ideal, less anarchic, but for the same reason more stable system of governance in place already in case the ideal one should fail; say a social democracy, with the power to enact popularly supported laws and to socially redistribute capital.
It should, wherever possible, allow the ideal anarchic solution to function and stay out of its way, and only step in to ameliorate the gravest failures that would otherwise result in a collapse to something even worse than a democratic state. It can, for instance, resolve otherwise irreconcilable conflicts between the highest levels of the anarchic governmental organizations, and levy progressive taxes to fund a universal stipend to ensure that everyone can afford to subscribe to those organizations.
It may in turn be prudent to have more than just this one tier of such failsafe in place, to ensure that wherever a better system of governance fails, it fails only to the next-best alternative, rather than failing immediately to the worst alternative; say a monarchy elected through direct democratic vote, empowered only to defend the social democracy from outside threats and prevent any inside forces from taking it over from within.
I think that this kind of evolution from state capitalism toward anarcho-socialism is itself a natural progression of rational governments looking to preserve themselves.
Authoritarianism and hierarchy may form the default form of state, given the origins of states from imbalances of power, but such a state will survive longer against the threat of revolution if it asks its subjects what they want of it, and gives them a cut of its takings, naturally inclining such authoritarian, hierarchical states to evolve a layer of social democracy as a means of effectively buying the loyalty of its subjects, or else eventually fall to popular revolution. Such a social democracy can then most easily appease the most people if it simply lets them make their own lifestyle choices instead of telling them how to live, and lets them provide each other with services instead of trying to do so itself, adding a layer of anarchy.
Thus, the lazy selfish authority, acting in its own self-interest, naturally devolves power toward a social democracy; and a lazy selfish social democracy, acting in its own self-interest, naturally devolves power toward more anarchic ideals. (This progression is not unlike Karl Marx's historical expectations that feudalism and capitalism would evolve through a phase of state socialism toward an anarchic state of communism).
I don't expect that this process would naturally result in true anarchy on its own, but the trending of better states toward anarchy demonstrates an important principle: anarchy is not the opposite of governance, but the perfection of it, what a government that does more good things that governments should do and fewer bad things that governments shouldn't do tends toward.
A society may thus find itself over time sliding up and down the scale between the worst authoritarian rule and the best anarchy, depending on how well its participants manage to operate within the different possible governmental systems along that scale. Because in the end, it is inherently impossible to force a people to be free. How good of a governmental system a society will support ultimately depends entirely on how much the people of that society genuinely value justice, because that governmental system is made of people, and it is ultimately their collective pursuit of justice that determines how well-governed their society can be.
How exactly to help contribute toward getting enough people to pursue justice, morality, and goodness more generally, is the topic of the next essay.
Continue to the next essay, On Empowerment, Courage, and Serenity.