Thursday, February 28, 2013

Challenging Delegation and Symmetry as Limitations on Government Action

Localism is compatible with most libertarian thought,because it is just a framework to protect local autonomy.   Instead of government devolving into one big box containing one set of rules, there are many little boxes which are protected from being swallowed up into the one big box.  But what people put into those boxes is up to them.  One state could be libertarian, another limited-government conservative  another, for however long the free market of government would permit it, could even be liberal.   In that sense, Localism could be useful to minarchists who could accomplish in little steps what they could not achieve all at once- the actual implementation of their ideas.

Anarchist philosophy is more absolutist, and is only with great difficulty incorporated into any other framework.  The logic of anarchist thought is sound, but I do take issue with some of the premises, and of course faulty premises will lead to the wrong conclusion even if the logic is sound.

 I have already described my issues with "self-ownership" as understood by anarchists.  Why do we own our paycheck? Well, we worked for it, we created the wealth it represents, we chose to provide a service, etc. I can't help but notice that none of these things apply to self-ownership. The reasons that we might give to say we own things don't apply to ourselves. But please read the article on that one and let me move on to the subject for today- the concepts of Ethical Symmetry and Delegation of powers.

Ethical symmetry is the concept that what is moral for one man is moral for another. If one man claims rights or privileges that another man does not have, then we have ethical asymmetry.  Anarchists attempt to apply this principle to make the case that government agents should not have any powers that an individual does not have, since any power a government has (according to this view) are powers delegated from other people.

That brings us to the related concept of delegation of powers.  Under this view the government of the people cannot logically have powers or rights not delegated to it by the people.  If I do not have the right to steal, nor does the government via it's IRS agency. Someone must have the right to "steal" via taxation for the government to have that power. 

I believe that both these concepts in a subtle way deny the existence of an absolute moral order.  It is my position, and that of many others, that such a law exists, and that the Lawgiver (God) exists.  In such a case ethical asymmetry also exists if one is acting on behalf of the higher moral law.  In other words, ones authority to be the upholder of the higher moral law might be delegated to them by other persons, but the authority of the law itself comes from a higher source than fellow citizens.   

What I am getting at is that if there is a transcendent moral order, it "owns" us in the sense that it is our moral superior, not our equal. It owns the state too. That is to say, each individual does not get to re-create moral reality for his or her self from a blank sheet of paper. Nor does the state get to do so. Both the individual and the state start with a blank sheet of paper, but the moral order of the universe is what they are obligated to try and write out on that blank sheet of paper, though we all do so imperfectly. The state is not supreme over the individual nor the individual over the state, both are fallible humans and neither are sovereign in a transcendent sense of the word. Both are subject to the moral law.  

But if there is a Creator (and the Founders believed there was, and He was the source of all rights) then, while we have freedom of choice in this life as to whether we care to recognize Their sovereignty, they would still be sovereign on the same basis that you claim ownership of something you create. A Creator-Created relationship does not need to be symmetric in order to be just. 

Nor would the "delegation" of powers be limited to actions one could justly take as an individual.  The "delegation" comes from the Creator to the government, and from the Creator to the individual. The individuality may delegate powers to their government, but they are not solely the individual's powers.  They are recognizing a power beyond them, and giving their consent to the state to wield those powers.  One may be like Ron Paul and believe that the Creator's moral code is to grant the individual the maximum liberty possible without hurting others, but basis for such a view would not be individual sovereignty, it would be based on it being a key component of the moral code. I.E. the Sovereign gave the individual freedom to choose whether to conform to the moral code, not that the individual is the Sovereign over it.

The classic Christian position, which helped birth the governments which provided the most liberty in human history, did not share the premise that government is in a symmetric relationship with its subjects and that its powers were limited to those of its subjects.   Romans 13 describes agents of the state as "God's ministers" who are authorized to "honor those who do good and bring wrath on evil doers."   

That does not sound like a symmetrical relationship to me!  Nor does it sound like the powers of government are limited to a delegation of whatever powers an individual can have, at least on a morally relativistic basis.  God can do things to us that we can't justly do to Him, because He created us and knows more than us and is purer than we are. He is the parent, we are the child: Another well-known asymmetric relationship   And if agents of the state are also agents of God, so can they.

Before one jumps to condemn me for trying to "impose my morality" I should point out that the Non-Aggression Principle itself, when used as a law, is itself an attempt to impose morality. It says the lines should be here, and not there.   Of course, everyone says that the code they attempt to impose on all is the most reasonable.   Yet we find that reasonable conclusions can vary based on the starting premises.

I am not even saying that the Non-Aggression Principle is wrong.  I can't know that. Maybe the Non-Aggression Principle is also the moral principle that the Divine Moral Order wants governments to operate under.  Maybe a government set up with the Non-aggression principle as the law would produce the best government the world has ever seen.  I am all for its adherents getting a chance to try it, and under localism they can.   My personal belief is that the Non-Aggression Principle is just that, a principle.  That is, something that is generally true.  This varies from the definition of a law, which is something that is always true without exception.

What I reject is "Ethical Symmetry" in the sense that "if you can't as an individual justly initiate force against me for something then you can't delegate the government to do it either."   When one is acting on behalf of another who is greater than they are, then they can justly behave in ways that they could not were they acting on their own authority.  If I am a middle manager for a company, I can't go outside my department and fire another middle manager and take over their department. But if the owner of the company authorizes me to do so, then I justly can. 

Christians are told "do not take your own revenge."  They are told that God will repay.  They are also told that the State is His Minister to bring wrath on evil doers.  In other words, in God's moral order this is an asymmetric relationship where the state can justly do things to an individual that another individual cannot justly do.

I have a similar objection to Delegation as used by anarchists.   God raises up governments, and when they grow either too just for their population or not just enough relative to their population, He brings them down.   The individual, when they elect, set up, consent to, or recognize a government, are agreeing that this is the body they will accept as executing God's will with the respect to the establishment of justice. 

This view of government has been lost, but it is consistent with the view that Republican government was founding on.  That view has produced a lot of human liberty, and I believe could have produced even more if it had been sustained.   Now whether that produces a government that is libertarian, or limited-government conservative or whatever is a different story, or likely one-hundred different stories depending on the character and desires of the people.  

The main thing I want people to take away from this is that there is more than one possible right answer to some very fundamental questions, depending on which premises are true.  Because of that, whatever kind of government you want to have, I hope you will see the benefit of getting there through a localist framework.


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