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Book Title: Authority, Obedience, and the State (Cato Unbound Book 32013)|
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The author of the book: Bryan Caplan
Edition: Cato Institute
Date of issue: March 4th 2013
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Many people grant the state the moral right to do all sorts of things — things that, were they done by private individuals, we would nonetheless find appalling. Can we justify this expansive moral authority, whether through social contract theory or otherwise? If we can't, what happens next?
Philosopher Michael Huemer's new book, The Problem of Political Authority, proposes a radical solution: The state and its agents should be judged using exactly the same standards that we apply in our judgments of private conduct. If it is wrong for me to extract money from my neighbor under threat of force, then — and by the same token — it is also wrong for the state. When we make these judgments, he argues, we rapidly discover that we have no duty whatsoever to obey the state.
The result, for him, is philosophical anarchism. Of course, many libertarians and others decline to go so far. It's an old debate, and one not likely to be settled here in any case. What Huemer's argument brings, however, is a new methodological approach. He builds his case from from common, widely shared ethical intuitions rather than abstract first principles. Such principles may or may not be shared among all interlocutors, even while their intuitions agree. This initial agreement, Huemer claims, is a solid foundation for political and ethical reasoning.
To discuss with him, we've recruited a panel of distinguished thinkers of varying persuasions: George Mason economics professor Bryan Caplan, libertarian scholar-activist Tom G. Palmer, and Binghamton University philosophy professor Nicole Hassoun.
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Read information about the authorBryan Caplan is a professor of economics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. He received his B.S. in economics from University of California, Berkeley and his Ph.D. from Princeton University. His professional work has been devoted to the philosophies of libertarianism and free-market capitalism and anarchism. (He is the author of the Anarchist Theory FAQ.) He has published in American Economic Review, Public Choice, and the Journal of Law and Economics, among others. He is a blogger at the EconLog blog along with Arnold Kling, and occasionally has been a guest blogger at Marginal Revolution with two of his colleagues at George Mason, Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok. He is an adjunct scholar of the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.
Currently, his primary research interest is public economics. He has criticized the assumptions of rational voters that form the basis of public choice theory, but generally agrees with their conclusions based on his own model of "rational irrationality." Caplan has long disputed the efficacy of popular voter models, in a series of exchanges with Donald Wittman published by the Econ Journal Watch. Caplan outlined several major objections to popular political science and the economics sub-discipline public choice. Caplan later expanded upon this theme in his book The Myth of the Rational Voter (Princeton University Press 2007), in which he responded to the arguments put forward by Wittman in his The Myth of Democratic Failure.
He maintains a website that includes a "Museum of Communism" section, that "provides historical, economic, and philosophical analysis of the political movement known as Communism", to draw attention to human rights violations of which, despite often exceeding those of Nazi Germany, there is little public knowledge. Caplan has also written an online graphic novel called Amore Infernale.