I see that R. P. Wolff has a blog, The Philosopher's Stone. His post Anarchism and Marxism caught my eye. In it he addresses the question of the logical consistency of his anarchism and his Marxism. The answer of course depends on how Wolff employs these terms.
First of all, when I call myself an anarchist, I mean just exactly what I explained in my little book In Defense of Anarchism. I deny that there is or could be a de jure legitimate state. That is the sum and substance of what I call in that book my "philosophical anarchism." This is a limited claim, but not at all a trivial one. [. . .]
My Marxism, as I have many times explained, is not a form of secular religious faith, but a conviction that Marx was correct when he argued that capitalism rests essentially on the exploitation of the working class.
Clearly, *A de jure legitimate state is impossible* and *Capitalism rests essentially on the exploitation of the working class* are logically consistent propositions. So if these propositions capture what is meant by 'anarchism' and 'Marxism,' then one can be both an anarchist and a Marxist.
So far, so good. But suppose one accepts the second proposition. Wouldn't one naturally want to bring about political change and eliminate capitalism and with it the exploitation of the working class? (As Marx wrote in his Theses on Feuerbach, "The philosophers have variously interpreted the world, but the point is to change it.") Now the implementation of this change and the maintenance of a a socialist order requires the coercive power of the state and with it the violation of the autonomy of all those who resist.
This fact brings us to a much more interesting consistency question: How could an anarchist (in Wolff's sense), consistently with his anarchism, be a Marxist in any full-blooded sense of the term? In a full-blooded sense, a Marxist is not one who merely maintains the thesis that capitalism by its very nature exploits workers, but one who works to seize control of the state apparatus for the purpose of implementing the elimination of capitalism. The following two propositions are plainly inconsistent: *The state as such lacks moral justification* and *The state possess moral justification when its coercive power is employed to eliminate capitalism and usher in socialism.*
Now that is the inconsistency that bothers me. Wolff appears to address it at the end of his post:
I can see no conflict whatsoever between philosophical anarchism and Marxian socialism. The citizens of a socialist society, were one ever to come into existence [Gott sei dank!], would have no more obligation to obey the laws of that state, merely because it was socialist, than they have now to obey the laws of the United States, merely because America is (let us grant for the sake of argument) democratic. Both groups of citizens would stand under the universal duty of judging for themselves whether what the laws command is something that on independent grounds it is good to do. There is no duty, prima facie or otherwise, to obey the law simply because it is the law.
There is something unsatisfactory about this answer. Wolff obviously wants a socialist society. But good Kantian that he is, Wolff must appreciate that to will the end is to will the means. The end is a socialist order; the means is the imposition of socialism and the eradication of capitalism by means of the coercive power of the state. (You would have to be quite the utopian off in Cloud Cuckoo Land to suppose that socialism could be brought about in any other way. And of course once the socialist state has total control, it won't "wither away.") So it seems Wolff must will and thus find morally acceptable the state apparatus that enforces and maintains socialism. But then his Marxism contradicts his anarchism. For these two propositions are logically inconsistent: *No state is morally justified* and *States that enforce and maintain socialism are morally justified.*
The bit about there being no duty to obey the law simply because it is the law seems not to the point. The point is that if socialism is morally superior to capitalism, and the only route to socialism is via the state's exercise of its coercive power, then one who wills and works for the implementation of socialism must will and work for and find morally acceptable the existence of a socialist state.
Or maybe Wolff's position just boils down to the triviality that whatever order comes about, whether capitalist, socialist, mixed, or anything else, there would be no duty to obey the law simply because it is the law. But then he hasn't shown the consistency of anarchism and Marxism in any full-blooded sense of these terms.
I summarize Wolff's In Defense of Anarchismhere , here, and here.
William Ernest Hocking (1873-1966) had his day in the philosophical sun, but is no longer much read – except perhaps by those contrarians who take being unread by contemporaries as a possible mark of distinction. Recently I came across this magnificent passage:
Life itself is individual, and the most significant things in the world – perhaps in the end the only significant things – are individual souls. Each one of these must work its own way to salvation, win its own experience, suffer from its own mistakes: "through angers, losses, ambition, ignorance, ennui," yes, and through crime and retribution, "what you are picks its way." Any rule which by running human conduct into approved grooves saves men from this salutary Odyssey thwarts the first meaning of human life. ("The Philosophical Anarchist" in R. Hoffman, ed. Anarchism, New York: Lieber-Atherton, 1973, pp. 120-121.)
The quotation within this quotation is from the last stanza of Walt Whitman's "To You" from Leaves of Grass.
Contrary to the willful misrepresentations of contemporary liberals, conservatives are not anti-government. To oppose big government is not to oppose government. This passage from Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century (1851), conveys a genuine anti-government point of view:
To be governed is to be kept in sight, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right, nor the wisdom, nor the virtue to do so.... To be governed is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under the pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolized, extorted, squeezed, mystified, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, despised, harassed, tracked, abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and, to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality.
This post is the third in a series. The first discussed authority, the second autonomy. The topic at present is the alleged conflict between them.
The state lays claim to moral authority, to the right to rule and the right to be obeyed. If it has the right to command and be obeyed, then the citizen has the correlative moral obligation to obey. But "the primary obligation of man is autonomy, the refusal to be ruled." (18) Conflict is the result: the obligation to obey contradicts the obligation to be autonomous. We might call this Wolff's antinomy.
There are three ways of responding to a contradiction: deny the first limb, deny the second limb, deny the contradiction. In the present case: deny the legitimacy of the state's claim to authority; deny that there is a moral obligation to be autonomous; deny that there is a genuine contradiction.
Wolff denies the first limb: he asserts that there is no obligation to obey the state's commands. On his view they lack legitimacy, binding moral force. (18) This is not to say that the anarchist will not comply with state commands. He may do so for prudential or even sentimental reasons: they are the commands of the government of his country and his feelings of attachment to his country may incline him to comply with its government's laws. The point, however, is that the laws have "no objective moral basis." (19) American laws have no more moral claim on Wolff than the laws of Sri Lanka. "All authority is equally illegitimate. . . ." (19)
This post has a prerequisite. We now explore the concept of autonomy as discussed by Robert Paul Wolff on pp. 12-18 of In Defense of Anarchism.
1. "The fundamental assumption of moral philosophy is that men are responsible for their actions." (12) Wolff intends moral as opposed to mere causal responsibility. But if we are morally responsible, then we are "metaphysically free." W. doesn't explain what he means by "metaphysically free," but since he mentions Kant, we may impute to W the view that we are libertarianly free, that is, free in the 'could have done otherwise' sense. Thus we enjoy more than the compatibilist "freedom of the turnspit" (Kant).
So if we are going to do moral philosophy at all, we must assume both that we are morally responsible for some of our actions and omissions and libertarianly free with respect to those same actions and omissions. So far, so good.
Robert Paul Wolff's In Defense of Anarchism (Harper 1970, 1976) is a good book by a clear thinker and master expositor. Here is a first batch of interpretive and critical notes. I use double quotation marks when I am quoting an actual person such as Wolff. Single quotation marks are employed for scaring, sneering, and mentioning. The MP is punctilious to the point of pedantry about the use/mention distinction. Numerals in parentheses denote pages in Wollf's text. 'W' abbreviates 'Wolff.'
In Nicole Hassoun's NDPR review of Roderick T. Long and Tibor R. Machan (eds.), Anarchism/Minarchism: Is a Government Part of a Free Country?, Ashgate, 2008, we read:
Anarchism should be of interest [to social liberals] because it plays the role in political philosophy that skepticism plays in epistemology -- raising the question of what, if anything, could justify a state in the way that brains in vats, etc. raise the question of what, if anything, could justify beliefs. The debate between anarchists and libertarians should be of interest because if the anarchists are right then libertarianism commits one to anarchism. So, social liberals who take libertarianism seriously may have to take anarchism seriously too.
I was struck by the notion that anarchism is as it were political philosophy's skepticism. A fruitful analogy. The anarchist is skeptical about the moral justifiability of the state in the way in which the epistemological skeptic is skeptical about whether what we take to be knowledge really is knowledge. There is a strong temptation, one I feel, to revert to a double insistence: first, that we have knowledge of the external world whether or not we can answer every conceivable objection to the possibility of such knowledge; and second, that some states are morally justified whether or not we we can explain to everyone's statisfaction what it is that confers moral justifiability on them.
Perhaps the right atitude is as follows. Provisionally, we should just accept that some beliefs about the external world amount to knowledge and that some states are morally justified. Ultimately, however, this is not a philosophically satisfactory attitude. One wants rational insight in both cases. And so we should keep working on the problems. But lacking as we do proof of the impossibility of knowledge and of the moral unjustifiability of the state, we have no good reason to abandon our commonsense views about the existence of knowledge and the moral justifiability of some states. You cannot be a philosopher without being a procedural skeptic; but if your skepticism hardens into dogmatic denial of the commonsensical, then the burden of proof is on you.
As for the criminal, his existence is not forgotten; but it is thought that he is either such by definition only, as one who has disobeyed what we have commanded; or he is such by response to the unnatural environment of the state and the inequalities which it fosters; or else he is the unusual individual of determined ill-will who is best dealt with by near and private hands, since the life of the will, whether for good or for evil, is always intimate, individual, and unique. ("The Philosophical Anarchist," in Hoffman ed., Anarchism, Lieber-Atherton, 1973, pp. 116-117)
Suppose we consider Hocking's three points seriatim.