The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey
By Michael Huemer
New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
Pp. xxvii, 365. $38 paperback.
As the title The Problem of Political Authority suggests, a central issue in political philosophy is the nature and justification of the authority of the state. States claim to have authority, and this authority is simultaneously the basis for the individual's duty to obey the state and, should we be remiss in this duty, the state's right to coerce. But where does this authority come from? Long ago, one might have grounded the authority of the state--or more precisely, the monarch--in raw power or the divine will. Few today would defend the notion that we all by nature owe allegiance to a divinely appointed sovereign, whose power is an expression of God's law. Modern alternatives that many people do take seriously include the idea that a democratic state gets its authority' from the whole of the people and the idea that we can hypothetically be presumed to consent to authority as an expression of the "social contract." What if these arguments don't work? One possibility is that states actually don't have the authority they claim. In that case, the only justification for state coercion would be that the social order itself is impossible otherwise.
Michael Huemer argues in his new book that indeed the modern arguments for political authority fail and, furthermore, that society will work just fine without state coercion. Hence, there is no duty on persons to obey the law and no right of the state to coerce. Huemer thus joins the ranks of twenty-first-century philosophical defenders of an anarchist position that is rooted in a conception of the efficacy of voluntary and competitive institutions (see, for example, Gerard Casey, Libertarian Anarchy [London: Continuum Books, 2012]; Gary Chartier, Anarchy and Legal Order [Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2013]; and Aeon J. Skoble, Deleting the State [Chicago: Open Court, 2008]). He argues that if we begin from commonly held and relatively uncontroversial moral claims, we will arrive at his uncommon and controversial conclusion. He announces early on that his argument is not based on a comprehensive moral or political theory such as utilitarianism or Kantian deontology or Rawlsian social contract theory. According to Huemer, "One who hopes to make progress [in political philosophy] cannot begin from a...