Reconsidering the Ethics of Statehood

On ethical grounds, my rejection of the state was based on the idea that the state’s claim to a monopoly on the enforcement of rules of conduct within a given territory was arbitrary if no individual has ultimate decision-making authority over property to be delegated to the state in the first place. However, I am beginning to have second thoughts on my ethical objection to the state.

What does it mean to coerce someone if not to exercise ultimate decision-making authority? Inherently, coercion is monopolizing — incompatible with dissent. By retaliating, the victim of aggression too is attempting to impose his or her own monopoly, with respect to his or her attacker, on the provision of coercion. Simply put, someone using force — whether justly or unjustly — is not seeking to coexist, but to destroy. Victims are seeking to destroy the coercion taking place against them. Of course, coercion can be used justly or unjustly (based on the context in which it was used). So just as the only proper function of coercion would be to defend individual rights, it would follow that the defense of individual rights is the only proper function of ultimate decision-making authority.

Ethical Implications for the State

To my understanding, the principle of rights is applicable in a social context (i.e., interacting with others), which would seem to support the idea that individuals would have the right to the retaliatory use of coercion (ultimate decision-making authority) throughout society, not just wherever they have ownership rights. As I noted, force is inherently a monopolizing act. Within any given territory, large or small, only one legal system can prevail at a given time. After all, what is at stake is rule-making. If individuals have the right to the defense of their rights, they are acting within the bounds of morality by seeing to it that a legal system that genuinely defends rights prevails. If individuals organized an institution, the legal system, to exercise ultimate decision-making authority in defense of their rights within a given territory, in fact they would be forming a state, an institution that cannot be challenged with impunity and which enforces rules of conduct within a given territory. So long as they were genuinely acting to defend individual rights, those individuals would be acting justly, as far as I can tell, in forming a state.

If it is any relief, the upshot of this rationale for the legitimacy of the state would be that its only justification would be to defend individual rights. I do not think this is necessarily at odds with market anarchism, as far as I understand, if the idea is that constituent functions of government should be open to the private sector to perform.

Just as people have the right to self-defense, they can decide that it might not be in their interest to act fully on that right. So while people have the right to form a proper state, at least as far as I can tell, there is no moral imperative that they must. In a scenario where the likelihood of conflict is diminished, implementing a government might be prohibitive for practical reasons, such as its possibility of being corrupted or even that its administrative costs would be too great. It goes without saying that just because a state exists, that does not necessarily mean it is proper or should be supported.


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