Limits of leviathan

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Leviathan, Part II: “Of Commonwealth”

And, of course, it is precisely in those situations where separate persons and groups have conflicting claims that most of the problems of social interaction arise. But enough about these later in this book. With such defined limits, however, and regardless of the sources of their derivation, an individual is clearly an entity distinct from his fellows.

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Equipped with this set of rights, informed about them, and similarly informed about the rights held by others, the individual is in a position to initiate agreements with other persons, to negotiate trades, or, in more general terms, to behave as a free man in a society of men. Robinson Crusoe is a man who is free to do more or less as he pleases, within the limits imposed by the physical environment, but, until Friday arrives, he is not free to enter into agreements and trades with other men.

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If Tizio is a free man and not a slave, he may work for whom he pleases; hence, he may reach agreement with Caio to exchange or to trade work for corn. If everyone should be, in fact, identical in all conceivable respects, including the precise specification of rights, mutual agreements could not emerge except in cases of increasing returns to specialized production. In a world of equals, most of the motivation for trade disappears. Exchange of rights takes place because persons are different, whether these differences are due to physical capacities, to some assignment of endowments, or to differences in tastes or preferences.

In Chapter 2 and beyond, I shall discuss in some detail the specific assignment of rights among persons. At this point, I must examine an apparent contradiction. The approach was described earlier as democratic or individualistic, in that each person counts for one, and for as much as any other. This essentially normative foundation for the analysis must be reconciled with the positive statement that men will necessarily differ among themselves and in any assignment of rights. Individuals differ, one from another, in important and meaningful respects. They differ in physical strength, in courage, in imagination, in artistic skills and appreciation, in basic intelligence, in preferences, Edition: current; Page: [ 16 ] in attitudes toward others, in personal life-styles, in ability to deal socially with others, in Weltanschauung, in power to control others, and in command over nonhuman resources.

No one can deny the elementary validity of this statement, which is of course amply supported by empirical evidence. We live in a society of individuals, not a society of equals. We can make little or no progress in analyzing the former as if it were the latter. In Hobbesian anarchy, individual differences would manifest themselves by varying successes in the continuous struggle for survival. But our interest lies in analyzing a social order that is nonanarchistic, at least in the sense that institutional means of resolving interpersonal conflicts exist.

This implies the existence of some structure of individual rights, regardless of how these may have emerged and regardless of differences among persons, as well as the existence of some collective agency, the state.

Restraining the Leviathan: Property Tax Limitation in Massachusetts

It is essential that the whole set of problems involving the assignment of rights among individuals and groups in society be separated from the set of problems involving the enforcement of the assignment that exists. Monumental but understandable confusion arises and persists from a failure to keep these two problem sets distinct.

Persons are defined by the rights which they possess and are acknowledged by others to possess. If two persons undertake trades or exchanges, one with another, each party must perforce respect, and respect equally, the defined rights of the other. If this were not the case, if the claims of one party to an exchange are respected by the second, but there is no reciprocal respect by the first party for the claims of the second, there has been no escape from anarchy, and exchange in the true sense is not possible.

That is to say, mutual agreement on an assignment of rights implies equal and reciprocal respect for these rights, as assigned. The assignment of rights further implies that the enforcing agent, the state, must behave neutrally in its task, that it must treat all persons equally in the organization and implementation of enforcement. Individuals are treated equally because their assignment of rights implies such neutrality, not because they are equals.

Hence, the neutrality condition translates into equal treatment for unequals, not equals.

SparkNotes: Thomas Hobbes (–): Leviathan, Part II: “Of Commonwealth”

Confusion often arises because equality in Edition: current; Page: [ 17 ] treatment is itself taken to be an attribute of descriptive equality. In different terms, there is often the false presumption that equality in treatment implies equality in fact in some relevant sense, or, at the least, equality as a norm for social progress. Thomas Jefferson might have avoided much confusion had his deism allowed him to make a slight variation on his statement.

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The equal-treatment norm emerges directly from the identification and definition of persons, as persons, and neither implies equality as fact nor infers equality as a requirement for the legitimacy of equal treatment. To the individualist, utopia is anarchist, but as a realist he recognizes the necessity of an enforcing agent, a collectivity, a state. As a minimal procedural norm, any such entity must treat equally all who qualify as members, as persons, even when interpersonal differences are acknowledged.

Or, perhaps more appropriately, what are the limits of law?

The necessity for an enforcing agent arises because of conflicts among individual interests, and the enforcing role for the state involves the protection of individual rights to do things, including the making and carrying out of valid contracts. In this role, the enforcing agent starts from or commences with the assignment of rights as these exist. The state has no role in setting out or in defining these rights if we stay within the dichotomy indicated.

If, however, the collectivity is empowered to enforce individual rights, how Edition: current; Page: [ 18 ] is it to be prevented from going beyond these limits? If we are able, conceptually, to discuss the enforcement of rights and of contracts involving exchanges of rights among persons apart from questions involving exogenous changes in the assignment of rights, we must also be able to specify, again conceptually, the rights of the collectivity to do things.

We cannot simply move one step further back and conceive of the appointment or selection of some superior enforcing agent, one that will protect and limit the rights of both individuals and the state. The enforcement hierarchy must stop somewhere, and for our purpose it is well to restrict discussion to the first level. How can Leviathan be chained? This problem has worried political philosophers of all ages, but no fully satisfactory answer has been advanced, either as an ideal to be approached or as a practical program to be experienced.

Two distinct means of limiting collective power have been proposed and tried.

State of Nature and Freedom: Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes

First, there have been various institutional devices which are designed to restrict overall collective interferences with individual rights. The Roman republic attempted to share executive power among two or more officials appointed simultaneously to the same position. Medieval Europe opposed a decentralized feudal nobility against a centralized church and, later, against the emerging nation-states. Montesquieu discussed effective division and separation of state power along procedural lines.

The Swiss have used federation effectively in keeping their society more or less free for centuries. This, too, has taken many forms. Scholars of the Enlightenment evoked the social contract to explain the origin as well as the limits of governmental powers. The written constitution, carrying with it a specified historical date, presumably had as its primary objective the offering of some predictable stability concerning the limitations of state power.

Heritages Edition: current; Page: [ 19 ] of the institutional devices and of the sources of mystique are mixed variously in the social orders of Western collectivities. Can anyone attribute success to their efforts in the perspective of the s? Viable federalism, as a means of checking dominant central-government power, has scarcely existed since the horrible civil war of the s.

Fortuitous circumstances alone held back the growth of federal government until the s. Since the Great Depression, we have witnessed continuing and accelerating growth in our own Leviathan. Increasingly, men feel themselves at the mercy of a faceless, irresponsible bureaucracy, subject to unpredictable twists and turns that destroy and distort personal expectations with little opportunity for redress or retribution.

But, as Gordon Tullock has demonstrated, the genuine revolutionary threat to ongoing collective agency is, and must be, miniscule in significance. The s present a paradox. There are demands from all quarters for a dismantling of bureaucracy, for a reduced governmental presence, for personal relief from accelerating tax pressures. By widespread agreement, the state has become too powerful, too pervasive in its influence over private affairs.

At the same time, however, demands for extensions in public control abound. We observe government on the loose but at the same time the minimal order presumably secured by collective enforcement of rights seems to Edition: current; Page: [ 20 ] be disappearing. Is there a connection here? Or is the causal link reversed? Has the state presence itself generated an erosion of the ordered anarchy on which society depends?

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Those who might have thought otherwise may find these statements more persuasive after Watergate. It seems questionable whether any government, any political party, any politician, can restore the sense of community that might be required for acceptable order in the s. Yet, lacking an alternative, the state responds and the paradox deepens.

Can American constitutional democracy function when the central government is so much more extensive than those limits envisaged for it by the Founding Fathers? These and other similar questions may not greatly concern those who take the truth-judgment approach to politics. To those of us, individualists and nonidealists, who reject the truth-judgment approach, the questions present genuine challenges of overriding importance.

One of my purposes in this book is to offer procedural diagnoses, a step that is required before we can begin to answer the larger questions. My analysis employs a few critical concepts, some of which have been mentioned: the assignment and enforcement of rights among persons, the limits of collective power. As these are elaborated, two somewhat more technical concepts emerge. The second is the capital investment characteristic of adherence to rules. During summer months, a roadside stand outside Blacksburg displays seasonal fruits and vegetables. I can purchase watermelons in quantities that I choose at prices which, by convention, are established by the salesman.

There is little or no higgling, and a transaction can be completed in seconds. Economic exchanges like this are so familiar to us, so much a part of everyday routine, that we often overlook the bases upon which such institutions rest. I do not know the fruit salesman personally, and I have no particular interest in his well-being.

He reciprocates this attitude.

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