This article responds to the first 2:40 of this video of The Young Turks discussing some Noam Chomsky.
Chomsky states that anarchism, as a general concept, demands justification from structures of power. I don’t think this forms a good definition of anarchism, but it is a related concept.
The Young Turks guy proceeds to say that this is a key difference between liberals and conservatives. He says liberals think power isn’t right by definition but that it needs to prove its legitimacy.He must be referring to American liberalism, because as I will later demonstrate, classical liberals and libertarians have a reason to think otherwise.That, in fact, was Chomsky’s largest mistake in his speech. He says, “You shouldn’t assume that it is legitimate because it’s been like that.”I think there’s a bit more here than meets the eye.The analytical tools that is missed by both Chomsky and TYT guy are a rigorous system of justification, and also market analysis.A foundational justificatory framework is presupposed. I would wager that they presuppose ideas which I would disagree with. For example, my justificatory framework is Christian theology. I doubt theirs is the same.Under the Christian framework:
- Power does not need to be justified. Read the Book of Job
- Government is justified by God. Read this article on the subject.
- Yet, as the article points out, there may be times where government is not justified.
So, from the Christian perspective, there is not an assumed burden of legitimacy on power or a default skepticism of authority. Chomsky’s view also seems self-defeating because it should include skepticism of self-authority, which parallels the way in which atheism and skepticism are both self-defeating as foundational worldviews.
Let’s look at the next point using market analysis, which is that we “shouldn’t assume that it is legitimate because it’s been like that.”
Efficient socio-political institutions can arise from market process. Efficient structures can be considered in some sense justified. Therefore, we have a prima facie reason to think social structures are justified.
The obvious problem is that some of these structures are not well constrained to efficient behavior by the market, so they are not all market justified. Government, in particular, is free to behave in very monopolistic fashion. I will point out that even governments face market pressure which is disbursed over a much longer time scale, and that durable governments therefore show some signs of efficiency, but I will also grant that not all socio-political institutions can be justified under this market framework.
More importantly, many social institutions are not monopolistic, and these are the ones emphatically justified. Religion is not monopolistic. Neither are other social institutions such as polite behavior, professional best practices, other forms of normal behavior, or even physical structures such as the placement of buildings and so on.
Chomsky might ask, “Is the position of this store justified?” We could say that it is justified in some sense because at the time in which it was constructed it was the market efficient choice, and the market has not yet selected to remove it. Is the use of English justified? It is justified in that is has been selected by the market and not yet overturned.
We do have a reason to think many things are justified by efficient market choice, but it is a bad simplification to say that this is society doing something just because it is what it has been doing for a long while. Old structures, such as tradition, are resilient because they have built up something like a market share. The speed of their ascension and decline is reflective of the relative advantage of using alternative structures.
Even if there is a better way of doing things, if it is only somewhat better then it will become normal at a slower rate than if it is much better. This is the same way in which technology works in economic models. This makes sense as social arrangements and norms can be seen as a sort of technology in the economic sense.
A new way of doing things may be better, but if it is not normal then it may not be in the interest of individuals to pick it up. This is analogous to the idea that a new hybrid vehicle may be better than a used gas car, but you may prefer the used gas car. When hybrid vehicles were first invented they were instantly better in some sense, but not preferable as they were so strange. The hybrid car may be expensive to produce or purchase and difficult to service or resell. The older model of car, while worse in a performance sense, is better than the hybrid when taken in context.
Durable structures are tried-and-true. Tradition itself changes over time, but usually in a gradual way which is reflective of market behavior. This is the conservative position which is in contrast to the progressive position, but not at all in contrast to the liberal position in the traditional sense of the term.
From the conservative view, progressive or rapid social change might operate as a socio-economic shock in the way that an oil crisis operated as an economic shock. Should we revolt against the institution of old cars and force everyone to purchase new hybrids? This would be bad in a number of ways, even though the hybrid is in some sense better.