Saturday, September 22, 2012

An Argument that Statism is an Amoral Philosophy

Let us start from a rather uncontroversial assumption that there exist so-called thick moral terms, i.e., terms whose very use implies a definitionally necessary moral evaluation of their content. Think of terms such as generosity and charity. It is logically impossible for there to be evil generosity or wicked charity. Or think of terms such as theft, counterfeiting, and Ponzi scheming. It is logically impossible for there to be benevolent theft, praiseworthy counterfeiting, or laudable Ponzi scheming.

In other words, there exist certain terms whose descriptive content implies a logically necessary moral assessment. Of course, this by itself does not constitute an argument for moral objectivity, since we differ in our application of these terms to various instances of human action. This, however, is not relevant to my argument here.

Now, let us ask a statist - that is, a believer in the desirability of the state and its institutions, including the ones mentioned in the latter part of this sentence - what conditions would need to hold for him to be able to justifiably accuse the IRS of stealing the money of private individuals, the Fed of counterfeiting money, or the Social Security Administration of engaging in a Ponzi scheme.

It seems to me that the statist can offer two relevant answers to this question, both of which leave him in a very uncomfortable position. First, given that the descriptive content of the above morally negative terms appears to match quite well the nature of the activities performed by the above state institutions, and assuming that the statist wishes to avoid the conclusion that the institutions whose existence he finds morally desirable engage in inherently immoral activities, he might suggest that it is definitionally and logically impossible for the IRS to steal, for the Fed to counterfeit, and for the SSA to engage in Ponzi schemes. In other words, he might suggest that the very nature of these institutions logically precludes describing their activities in these thick moral terms.

However, since redefining the terms in question so as to make them morally positive or morally thin whenever they are applied to the institutions of the state and their activities would be a semantically arbitrary move, it logically follows that the statist believes that moral categories do not apply to our judgments regarding at least some of the fundamental institutions of the state and their activities. In other words, the statist is logically compelled to conclude that he finds their existence desirable for reasons that are amoral, that is, immune to considerations of morality.

Alternatively, he might suggest that the thick moral terms mentioned above - theft, counterfeiting, and Ponzi scheming - apply only to illegal activities, while the activities performed by the IRS, the Fed, and the SSA are legal. This, however, implies that the only relevant moral difference here is that the state issued a certain declaration (the declaration of legality) with respect to its institutions and their activities, while it did not issue the same declaration with respect to the selfsame activities of private individuals and private organizations. This, in turn, implies that declaring something as legal (by the state, since, presumably, it is a matter of definition that only the state can issue such declarations) means removing the object of declaration from the realm of moral judgment and thus immunizing it to considerations of morality. In sum, the logical conclusion of this train of thought is that legality is an amoral, or, worse still, an amoralizing concept.

Hence, regardless of which of the abovementioned two answers the statist decides to choose, it turns out that the justification of his choice has to be ultimately grounded in amoral reasons. In other words, it turns out that, contrary to some prominent anti-statist arguments, the philosophy of statism in its cognitively faultless form seems to be based not so much (or not exclusively) on hypocrisy or general immorality, but on amorality.

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