Libertarians and Pragmatists on Democracy Part 4: Why Market Anarchism is more Democratic than Democracy

Note: This is the final part of a series on democracy. It is assumed the reader is familiar with part one, defining democracy, part two, summarizing classical liberal perspectives on democracy, and part three, which analyzes how pragmatists conceive of democracy as a broader philosophy. Here, I will argue that a synthesis of libertarian and pragmatist perspectives on democracy will yield an argument in favor of market anarchy.

The insights of classical liberalism, and particularly modern libertarianism, have shown that democracy is likely to lead to a tyranny of an irrational and ignorant majority and public choice theory has shown how it results in awful policies thanks to a number of collective action issues. However, as pragmatists have argued, democracy’s philosophical aspirations to scientific public deliberation, seeking the consent of the governed, valuing the dignity of every individual, and decentralizing political authority to take advantage of dispersed intelligence are still admirable. However admirable these philosophical aspirations are, real-world democracies completely fail to fulfill them.

The natural question is, if not democracy, what political arrangements can live up to the philosophical goals of Dewey and Hook? I think the answer lies in market anarchism. In what follows, I will show how market anarchism could succeed in realizing the aspirations of philosophical democracy where political democracy has failed.

Before we get started, let’s take into account a few minor housekeeping notes. It is assumed that the reader has at least a cursory knowledge of how market anarchism and polycentric law works. If you are not familiar with these concepts I highly recommend watching this video by David Friedman before continuing. Also, I am in no way arguing that any of the thinkers discussed in this series are “really” anarchists unless they’re obviously so such as Huemer. I will not even claim that any of them “should have been” anarchists (with the exception of Hayek). I am simply arguing that if we take into account the insights of their various perspectives, one could plausibly defend market anarchism.

Market Anarchism, Unlike Democracy, Does Rest on the Voluntary Consent of the Governed

As Michael Huemer convincingly has shown, democracy does not actually “rest upon the freely given consent of the governed” as Sidney Hook claims. The bar tab example illustrates that we would not consider majority rule “consent” in any everyday interaction and there is little reason to think it should be any different in the context of political institutions. By contrast, market anarchism is almost by definition based off of consent. This is the primary reason why many deontological market anarchists, such as Murray Rothbard, are market anarchists in the first place and why they oppose the coercive, non-consensual nature of the state. While democracy’s claim to legitimacy is that the governed vote but they are still forced to follow the (unjustified) authority of a state that has the monopoly on force whether they agree or not to, market anarchism is based off of voluntarily consented to contracts between individuals and defense agencies and contracts between those defense agencies and private, voluntary court systems and arbitrators. Further, the content of the laws is agreed to and law becomes a product one buys in voluntarily agreeing to sign up with a defense company, just as one buys a car, a piece of furniture, or any other good.

It is curious that many pragmatist defenses of democracy sound very similar to what many market anarchists and libertarians write. Not just in Sidney Hook’s definition of a democracy as a government that “rests upon the freely given consent of the governed,” but perhaps most strikingly in John Dewey’s 1939 essay “I Believe.” In this essay, Dewey walked back some of his early Hegelian collectivist lines of his early years:

My contribution to the first series of essays in Living Philosophies put forward the idea of faith in the possibilities of experience at the heart of my own philosophy. In the course of that contribution, I said, “Individuals will always be the center and the consummation of experience, but what the individual actually is in his life-experience depends upon the nature and movement of associated life.” I have not changed my faith in experience nor my belief that individuality is its center and consummation. But there has been a change in emphasis. I should now wish to emphasize more than I formerly did that individuals are the final decisive factors of the nature and movement of associated life.

Indeed, throughout the whole essay he emphasizes “the idea that only the voluntary initiative and voluntary cooperation of individuals can produce social institutions that will protect the liberties necessary for achieving development of genuine individuality.” Throughout the essay, he decries (like many left-anarchists do) “state socialism” just as much as he does “state capitalism.” Dewey’s opposition to capitalism is well-known, but what is less known is his opposition to so-called “public collectivism.” His criticisms here could just as easily have been written by someone like Hayek:

Recent events have shown that state socialism or public collectivism leads to suppression of everything that individuality stands for. It is not too late for us in this country to learn the lesson taught by these two great historic movements [ie., the rise of state capitalism and state socialism]. The way is open for a movement which will provide the fullest opportunity for cooperative voluntary endeavor. In this movement, political activity will have a part, but a subordinate one. It will be confined to providing the conditions, both negative and positive, that favor the voluntary activity of individuals.

It is interesting that, like anarchists who favor direct action, he emphasizes that political activity is subordinate to the political movement he sees as necessary.

Of course, there are still notable differences between Dewey and libertarians, he still defends what he calls “functional socialism” in the socialization of medicine and still berates more than many libertarians would be comfortable with (except, of course, for left-anarchists) inequality caused by state capitalism. His vision of a truly individualist society, even in his later years, was one with localized, experimental democratic institutions and economics controlled by those localized governments in a “functional socialist” fashion (as I mentioned earlier, that economic vision is at odds with Dewey’s epistemological commitments).

However, I would argue that it is more than a mere superficial coincidence that Dewey’s criticisms of state capitalism are almost identical to those of market anarchists who decry “crony capitalism,” that his criticisms of state socialism are very similar to some individualist libertarian criticisms, and his overall rhetoric defending democracy on the grounds of “voluntary cooperation of individuals” sounds remarkably similar to many libertarians. This is because, largely, the philosophical ends Dewey seeks in politics are the same as those sought by libertarians, market anarchists, and classical liberals. However, the institutional means he advocates are very different and fail to meet those ends.

There is, conversely, one potential criticism that Sidney Hook would raise at this point: that market anarchism does not really rest upon the freely-given consent of the governed due to its allowance for economic inequality. Hook argued that income inequality undermines consent in democracy and, as a result, economic organization should be controlled by a democratically elected government. There are two points to be made. First of all, when economic organization is controlled by government in democracies it exacerbates the problem of income inequality. Rent-seeking culture arises in which concentrated interests use, through lobbying power, government force to accumulate and protect their wealth. Indeed, as I mentioned earlier,  there have been empirical studies showing how over-regulation lobbied for by those concentrated benefits have regressive effects. Even fairly anti-free market economists such as Joseph Stiglitz have argued that income inequality is not an inevitable result of market institutions, but a result of bad government policies such as corporate welfare.

Second, it is questionable to what degree income inequality would exist in pure market anarchy. Of course, much of the bad inequality experienced under state capitalism is the result of bad policies, but some if it is also just a result of market’s tendencies to disrupt economic distributions (which, as Mises argued in Liberalism: The Classical Tradition is not a bad thing because it allows for luxury markets which can serve as an experimental market for expensive, new goods that one day become popular consumer goods). Some market anarchists, such as Anna Morgenstern, have argued that the type of mass accumulation of capital under capitalism would be impossible under market anarchism. I am unsure to what extent I agree, and a systemic analysis of the economic roots of inequality is outside of the scope of this post. However, suffice it to say that it is an open, empirical question whether purely free markets would result in problematic levels of inequality, as Hook seems to think, and we have some good reasons to think it would not. At the very least, it is clear that the democratic institutions favored by Hook are not a serious solution to the problem.

Market Anarchism, Unlike Democracy, Relies on a Decentralized Process of Political Decision Making

Dewey argued in “Democracy and Educational Administration” that “it is the democratic faith that [the distribution of knowledge and intelligence] is sufficiently general so that each individual has something to contribute and value of each contribution can be assessed only as it enters into the final pooled intelligence constituted by the contributions of all.” He seems to echo Hayek’s knowledge problem critique of socialism when he argues that the democratic faith is based on the wisdom that “no man or limited set of men is [sic] wise enough or good enough to rule others without their consent[.]” As we have seen, democracies tend towards heavily centralized governments that undermine this faith and fail to take advantage of the dispersed knowledge (in Hayekian terms) among individuals in society.

Market anarchy, on the other hand, by definition takes advantage of this feature of dispersed intelligence. Rather than having law be designed by a centralized legislature, law arises out of voluntary market exchanges between individuals and, like common law, the precedent of judges in private courts. Of course, both Dewey and Hayek embraced democratic institutions (in Hayek’s case, as well as free market economic coordination) to take advantage of decentralized knowledge. However, both Dewey and Hayek, particularly the ladder (Dewey never wrote about market anarchism as it did not exist as a unique perspective until almost a decade after his death), failed to appreciate the extent to which a polycentric legal system does this much better. Peter Stringham and Todd Zywicki have noted this tension in Hayek’s thought in particular, as they put it in an abstract for their excellent paper on the issue:

Should law be provided centrally by the state or by some other means? Even relatively staunch advocates of competition such as Friedrich Hayek believe that the state must provide law centrally. This article asks whether Hayek’s theories about competition and the use of knowledge in society should lead one to support centrally provided law enforcement or competition in law. In writing about economics, Hayek famously described the competitive process of the market as a “discovery process.” In writing about law, Hayek coincidentally referred to the role of the judge under the common law as “discovering” the law in the expectations and conventions of people in a given society. We argue that this consistent usage was more than a mere semantic coincidence — that the two concepts of discovery are remarkably similar in Hayek’s thought and that his idea of economic discovery influenced his later ideas about legal discovery. Moreover, once this conceptual similarity is recognized, certain conclusions logically follow: namely, that just as economic discovery requires the competitive process of the market to provide information and feedback to correct errors, competition in the provision of legal services is essential to the judicial discovery in law. In fact, the English common law, from which Hayek drew his model of legal discovery, was itself a model of polycentric and competing sources of law throughout much of its history. We conclude that for the same reasons that made Hayek a champion of market competition over central planning of the economy, he should have also supported competition in legal services over monopolistic provision by the state — in short, Hayek should have been an anarchist.

There is one possibly fatal objection to this line of reasoning, that is also the most substantial objection to market anarchism as a whole: the possibility that market anarchy, like democracy, will eventually lead to a centralized state that undermines its attempt to take advantage of dispersed knowledge. This argument was initially hinted at by Robert Nozick in Anarchy, State, and Utopia in his argument about the “immaculate conception of the state” but was expanded on most convincingly by Tyler Cowen. Ultimately it is an empirical question whether market anarchy would eventually lead to more centralization, and it is outside the scope of this post to analyze that fascinating question in any satisfactory amount of detail. I will say, however, that Bryan Caplan has given more or less convincing reasons why this may not be the case.

Market Anarchism, Unlike Democracy, Values the Dignity of the Individual

One of the features central to the pragmatist “democratic faith” is the belief that “belief that every individual should be regarded as possessing intrinsic worth or dignity[.]” As I argued, the conflation of democratic governments with the “collective will” of the people undermines this faith as political dissenters and individual thinkers become viewed as opponents to “the people.” Indeed, it seems that the type of “public” and “private” collectivisms that Dewey ridiculed in “I Believe” are a result of democratic institutions run amuck.

Market anarchism, meanwhile, suffers from no such issues. Instead, the intrinsic worth of the individual is respected as their free choices and associations is the main driving mechanism for political organization. There is no violation of free speech and free thought by a deliberative government as such a government does not exist in the first place under anarchy, and thus the intrinsic worth and dignity are not found in the “will of the people” as in democracies, but in the sovereign individual’s choice of which defense provider to contract with.

Market Anarchism, Unlike Anarchy, is Scientific and Deliberative

Contrary to Dewey and Hook’s characterization of democracy as a deliberative, intelligent application of the scientific method to social issues, democracy is instead characterized by polarizing populist pandering and rationally ignorant and irrational voters casting meaningless ballots based cultural associations rather than reasoned consideration of policy issues. Market anarchism, meanwhile, does have the deliberative, scientific nature the pragmatists vainly hope democratic institutions could aspire to. While under democracy the cost of casting an informed vote is very high and the benefits very low resulting in massive amounts of rational ignorance, under market anarchism individuals have every incentive to ensure they are informed about the legal rules they are purchasing, so to speak, by contracting with rights defense agencies. Unlike in democracy where the benefits of casting an informed vote are extremely low because your vote has an infinitely small probability of making a difference, under market anarchy the rights defense agency you chose to contract with has immediate and certain impacts upon your life, thus creating a much larger incentive to cast an informed (metaphorical) vote by choosing to purchase the services of a preferred rights defense agency.

Deliberation about legal policy is far more likely to be more reasoned in market anarchy than in democracy. First, because market anarchism is more radically experimental than political democracy. Freedom of speech and of thought in democracy is often likened to a metaphorical “marketplace of ideas,” but in market anarchy it is a literal marketplace in which the ideas are not chosen just by speculation and public deliberation, but actually experimented with and acted upon in practice. Democracy is only “experimental” in a priori public deliberation about policies, but market anarchy is “experimental” in actually applying those policies and assessing their results a posteriori. Under democracy, once a policy is chosen it becomes difficult to assess counterfactually if another potential policy could have yielded better results, thus it is difficult to ascertain which was the superior policy. It is as if scientists in a lab simply talked about the hypothetical results of various hypothetical experiments and chose theories based on their discussions rather than actually testing the theories by actually running the experiments. Because of the polycentric nature of law under market anarchy, multiple policies are taken on at the same time, making it easier to tell which is more desirable in practice rather than simple theoretical deliberation.

Another reason why political deliberation is more likely to be reasoned in market anarchy than democracy is because of the institutional mechanisms for choosing policy. The main way law is “made” in democracy is through legislation voted on by representatives, who are ultimately accountable to the public through general elections. Often, debate on the floor of legislative bodies is anything but reasoned and deliberative, and clearly discussion about elections quickly devolves into mindless partisan bickering, sensationalist “scandals,” and populist rhetorical flair rather than reasoned discussion about policies. In market anarchy, however, law is “discovered” by private arbitrators and judges who are ultimately accountable to the defense firm’s consumers in the marketplace. It is pretty clear that real-world courtrooms tend to have a more elevated level of dialogue than legislative bodies, to say less of public elections, and I fail to see why this would not be the case under market anarchism.

Further, there wouldn’t be a need for partisan bickering and debates that bring down the level of public discourse in market anarchy, for similar reasons why there isn’t nearly as nasty debates about preferences for consumer goods as there are about politics. To use an analogy, in democracy, if we’re voting on what soda to consume, whoever wins the vote gets a monopoly on their preferred soda; so my preference for Coke could possibly eliminate your ability to enjoy Pepsi; but in a market, if I prefer Coke you still can drink Pepsi, meaning we don’t need to bicker about our consumer preferences. It is similar (though clearly not identical because when we’re talking about law it’s quite a bit more consequential) with legal policies: in democracy, if I prefer one set of legal rules to another which you prefer, we must fight over how to vote because the two are mutually exclusive; but in market anarchy, because law is polycentric and not monolithic, they are not mutually exclusive so we don’t need to fight nearly as hard for it. There’s a good reason why debates among consumers for products they prefer (Coke v. Pepsi, Apple v. Windows, Android v. iPhone) rarely get as nasty as debates in democratic politics, because there is room for disagreement at the end of the day in a market that there is not in politics.


Clearly, democracy is far from the ideal method of political organization. As classical liberals throughout history have shown, despite the fact that it may be possible to other political forms such as oligarchy and monarchy, it has a tendency towards the tyranny of the majority and massive collective action problems. However, the philosophical aspirations of the most ardent defenders of democracy are still extremely valuable, even if their preferred institutions fail to deliver. Market anarchism is a reasonable synthesis of these two insights; it has the potential to live up to the aspirations of pragmatist democrats without the major, systemic problems of real working democracies that undermine those aspirations.

John Dewey once said “democratic institutions are no guarantee for the existence no guarantee for the existence of democratic individuals,” what is needed is a better set of institutions that have a higher probability to cultivate Dewey’s idea of “democratic individuals.” Market anarchism appears to be a viable candidate for such a set of institutions.

8 thoughts on “Libertarians and Pragmatists on Democracy Part 4: Why Market Anarchism is more Democratic than Democracy

  1. ((Reposting from reddit. Part of the reason this comment reiterated basic points about anarchocapitalism was for explanatory purposes on reddit))

    I’m overall sympathetic to the arguments in this paper (in that I’m critical of democracy), but I think there are a few points at which we can be a bit skeptical:

    “The insights of classical liberalism, and particularly modern libertarianism, have shown that democracy is likely to lead to a tyranny of an irrational and ignorant majority and public choice theory has shown how it results in awful policies thanks to a number of collective action issues. […] However admirable these philosophical aspirations are, real-world democracies completely fail to fulfill them.”

    This seems more than a little hyperbolic. It’s true that democracies often fail to select the best policies, and I think there are good reasons to think that the problem is structural and chronic rather than incidental and avoidable. But the idea that democracies “completely fail to fulfill” their promise is an overstatement, or at least a generalization which is only very debatably empirically verified. Mature democracies tend to be richer, safer, and more liberal than non-democracies: this is partially a case of comparing apples and oranges, and I agree that there are theoretical reasons to think that correlation=/= causation in this case, but it is still a stretch to say democracy has “completely failed”.

    “As Michael Huemer convincingly has shown, democracy does not actually “rest upon the freely given consent of the governed” as Sidney Hook claims.”

    While I agree that many arguments for the consensual nature of democracy are flawed, we should take note here: Huemer’s book on political philosophy, The Problem of Political Authority, was notoriously poorly reviewed by other political philosophers. Huemer’s book surveys a number of arguments for the political authority of government and rejects each in turn: the problem is that, since the book is relatively short yet still covers a wide range of justifications for authority, it does not treat any in-depth. It also neglects some of the best arguments for political authority, such as Kantianism (this being my view and one of the most commonly held among political philosophers, especially Rawlsians), ‘fair-play’, etc. etc.

    I do think that Huemer’s conclusion is right and that specifically democratic arguments for political authority fail (I am a Kantian here, and I do not think the actual form of a state matters in determining whether the state has authority), but Huemer’s treatment is not very good. I do not have the book with me at the moment so I cannot quote the relevant question, but, IIRC, his argument rests on a simple comparison of political procedures to ordinary non-political procedures, and a similar equivalency between states and individual persons. It’s a very methodologically individualistic work, and rejecting this individualism undercuts the entire book.

    “market anarchism is based off of voluntarily consented to contracts between individuals and defense agencies and contracts between those defense agencies and private, voluntary court systems and arbitrators.”

    The problem is that no market anarchist actually believes this sort of simplistic claim (only very naive market anarchists do). I am not trying to be unfair here to market anarchists: I think that you can make compelling arguments for the position. But they should not overstate the voluntary nature of polycentric law. As I understand deontological anarchocapitalism, the argument goes like this:

    1. There are certain moral rules which are part of the natural law (the right of an individual to his person/property; a right which constrains others from interfering with his person/property).

    2. For practical reasons, we need something more than just the natural law: we need to develop and enforce rules so that we can apply natural law to particular instances, and we also need to develop and enforce rules for other purposes.

    3. Since natural law means that you can’t coerce someone by infringing on his control of his person/property, that provides a constrain on the sort of positive laws (per 2) that we can develop. This means that we can’t coerce people to submit to positive laws.

    4. This means that institutions of positive law need to be voluntarily supported, and whatever rules they make which are rules beyond what’s authorized by natural law needs to be consensually adopted (otherwise these rules violate natural law).

    Critically, ancaps (almost always) believe in a right to self-defense and to punishment, meaning that violating natural law (and this includes violating positive laws to which you have previously consented, since, per natural law, consent generates obligations) licenses people to use coercion in order to defense property/people/punishment. So private courts can punish murderers (who obviously don’t consent to be punished) without violating the natural law (since this is not the sense in which consent actually matters for ancaps), but these private courts can’t coerce people into supporting the law.

    I suppose a good example might be something like this: imagine that there is an oppressive regime in some distant country which is committing genocide. I am authorized by natural law to go to this country and fight against the genocidal regime, since natural law entitles people to use coercion against criminals. However, I can’t force other people to join my resistance movement against this regime, since the natural law only licenses the use of coercion against people who violate natural law.

    I disagree with step (3) of the ancap argument for basically Kantian reasons.

    The critical arguments of the essay depend on a kind of ideal process of legal procedure. It is true that, were polycentric law carried out in a way which is consistent with deontological libertarianism, then it would be totally consensual (in other words, if everyone were a duty-bound, rule-abiding libertarian, then it would follow trivially form this that all human relationships would be consensual). But in practice there is good reason to be skeptical – if nine of ten people in a neighborhood agree to a certain set of rules embodied in a given institution, and the tenth does not – even when there are good reasons for him to agree – then what is to be done? It’s not implausible that the tenth person would, in a way inconsistent with deontological libertarianism but predictable given the structure of polycentric law, be coerced into accepting the rules. This doesn’t mean that a deontological libertarian shouldn’t just be willing to accept the inevitability of coercion in this system (I still think that, if you grant the total force of the NAP, you’d have to be an ancap, since there is nothing essentially in tension between the NAP and this polycentric legal order), but it does mean that this argument isn’t as simple as it first seems.

    • Some good points here, but a few thoughts.

      With regards to my comment on how democracy “completely fails” to meet its ends, I agree that modern liberal democracies are safer, richer, and freer than non-democracies, and I concluded part two of this series by saying exactly that. In context, I meant it completely failed to meet the specific goals of the pragmatists; that it fails to foster scientific deliberation of political issues, to be consensual, to take advantage of decentralized knowledge, and to value individual dignity. Even if it meets those ends better than other systems of governance, my main point was that market anarchy could meet them better.

      With regards to Huemer, I think you overstate the extent to which Huemer’s book was ill-received. George Kokosolo, for example, gave a reasonably positive, though not uncritical, review of the book in *Ethics*. ( I will agree, though, that overall Huemer’s book received at best mixed reviews. Nonetheless, in this context I was primarily relying on his argument that political authority is not consented to in democracies than his overall project, which I think is one of the stronger arguments of his book.

      As for his overall comparison between individual everyday situations and political institutions (which his argument does primarily rest on), what he does is shit the burden-of-proof to those arguing in favor of the legitimacy of political authority: why should we treat every day situations different than political institutions morally? I agree it’s not a foregone conclusion that we shouldn’t, and I agree that Huemer’s argument could have been strengthened by addressing this claim more directly, but the whole point of proving political authority is to show why we should treat everyday individual situations differently than politics and the burden of proof is on those trying to justify political authority to do so. I will add I am skeptical of Huemer’s underlying ethical intuitionism (for similar reasons I talk about later), but I think his arguments give us convincing reasons to believe that political authority is unjustified, though I agree they don’t once-and-for-all prove it.

      Per your comments on consent, let me clarify: I am not a deontological anarcho-capitalist, I’m a rule-consequentialist (though certainly not utilitarian) left market anarchist. I generally agree with Alisdair MacIntyre that concepts such as “natural rights” are “moral fictions,” and think without cardinal utility utilitarianism (at least qua Bentham, perhaps not for others like Singer) falls apart and generally agree with Pareto that appeals to utility are for those “who with a hankering for metaphysics.” As a Roritan epistemological behaviorist, I’m pretty skeptical of any attempt to ground ethics or political theory in any sort of metaphysical concept like “natural law.” That was not the argument I was making. I think the argument for market anarchism is much less foundationalist, the idea that government should rest on the consent of the governed is a conclusion that comes out of the dialogical relationship between experience and conversations with our fellow human inquirers; it is not something that can be “proven” with appeals to “first principles” such as natural law.

      I agree with you that, in the quoted section, I somewhat overstated the extent to which anarchy is consensual, but a thorough-going analysis of the nature of “consent” was somewhat out of the scope of this article (even though it probably could have benefited from such an analysis, that’ll be a future project of mine). However, I think your argument that “consent” would fall apart with polycentric law is a bit overblown. First of all, recall that the creator of law under a polycentric legal system is not in the actual contract between the individual and the defense agency, but the system of contracts of defense agencies between each other and higher courts. The tenth person can still contract with a different defense agency, one that even contracts with a different first-order court, without his neighbors doing anything. His neighbors might try to convince him to contract with their preferred agency, and the line between such social pressure and coercion is notoriously blurry, but it is just as conceivable that they wouldn’t succeed and he’d have properly consented to the government. Even if he does chose to contract with the majority agency at the urging of his peers, what’s the difference between that and my friends convincing me to use Facebook rather than Google+?

      Of course, if there should be a disagreement between him and his neighbors, and I agree that this is not a very big if, at some point their defense company would have to contract with a common arbitrator for a final court of appeal on the dispute. And there is a danger that this higher court, this “final court of appeal” could eventually develop monopoly power and eventually result in the situation that Cowen and Nozick describe. However, that’s a different argument from saying that a non-coercive government wouldn’t occur in a system of polycentric law. At the very least, and I think you’d agree, my main point was that market anarchy is more consensual than democracy, if not perfectly consensual.

  2. “There are four ways in which political democracy undermines the aspirations of philosophical democracy. First, in no meaningful sense could it be said that political democracy has the consent of the governed. Second, political democracy in practice is in no meaningful sense actually an application of intelligence and the scientific method to political issues in practice. Third, the centralization of political authority and planning in democracies undermines Dewey’s point that intelligence is distributed throughout society (particularly in his extremely interventionist views on economics). Finally, the democratic process undermines the mutual respect of individual human dignity philosophical democracy exalts.”

    1) Political democracy (understood as majoritarian voting within the context of something like republican-constitutional institutions) doesn’t have perfect legitimacy or consent of the governed, for Huemerian reasons. But legitimacy involves more than mere consent of the governed. Legitimacy is best understood not as binary but as a spectrum where the most legitimate governments are those that best provide institutional contexts promoting human flourishing however you understand it. Here presently existing liberal democracies are conspicuously legitimate. No arrangement even in theory could satisfy consent of the governed, even market anarchism. Individuals will after all always be born into situations they had no say over and are powerless to change. Market anarchism may violate the comprehensive understandings of the good of quite a few reasonable people who just don’t agree with you.

    2) Political democracy with wide suffrage *does* apply intelligence to political issues in practice. People do deliberate with one another, like we’re doing right now. They also support different politicians with their money and volunteer time, as well as lobbying and activist groups (like, say, the ACLU or the Institute for Justice). Wide-suffrage democracy leverages the perspectives of many different people with different concerns, backgrounds, skill sets, and heuristics in a way that monarchies and epistocracies simply cannot.

    Note that democracy doesn’t mean that everyone gets to vote on every question. A liberal constitutional democracy perfectly consistent with technocratic bodies (like the federal reserve, CDC, or Supreme Court). Constitutional protections of minorities and basic human rights against fevered majorities are a regular feature of actually existing liberal democracies. One can view this as the demos voting to tie itself to the mast.

    As to concerns like rational irrationality, this has limited scope. You’ll notice that many people actually do devote time and energy to being good citizens. They discuss with like-minded people what the best ways to vote are given their values, and consult experts and other sources of distilled information. And some of the more positivist economists can sometimes fail to appreciate that the questions put before the electorate are not always purely economic questions but, as Hélène Landemore puts it, political questions with economic dimensions. This isn’t at all to say that biases aren’t a problem or that democracies always produce the “correct” answers. They often do not. But perfection is not on offer.

    3) You talk a lot about democracy centralizing authority but you never mention federalism, where political authority is seen in both horizontal and vertical directions, with various kinds of overlapping jurisdictions. This provides decentralization, experimentation, voice and exit, and potentially helpful tensions.

    You speak as if democracy has been shown to be a failure, but, again, liberal democracies in general rank quite highly in world-historical terms on any given human development indices, including libertarian-friendly ones. In contrast, market anarchism untried and thus any conclusions drawn therefrom are speculative in the extreme. Nozick as you acknowledge gives strong arguments for how market anarchism could be unstable and disintegrate into mutually wary fiefdoms. You provide a strawman of political decisions being like choosing between Pepsi and Coke, but these consumer goods are quite unlike political questions that involve public goods provision and deeply contentious questions of the good life and purposes of the political community.

    And it’s unclear why market anarchist defense agencies would be uniquely free from public choice dynamics. Nontrivial decisions about property rights must be made and these will have differential impacts on various parties, who will thus lobby. Agents within the defense agencies will respond to incentives to accumulate power and prestige and wealth just as political agents in democracies do.

    Along an entirely different tack, there’s some reason to believe that the bureaucratic state has enhanced individual freedom insofar as it has freed the individual from the rule of the clan (see Mark Weiner).

    4) Democratic process respects individual human dignity by providing individuals with a voice on political questions in a way that monarchies and epistocracies explicitly do not. To the extent that market anarchist arrangements feature a small number of defense agencies run by a small number of people on like, boards of directors, this doesn’t yield much improvement in the individual dignity metric over liberal democracies.

    • Thanks for your comment Paul! I’ll mostly reiterate what I said in our exchange on facebook.

      1) Legitimacy might require more than the consent of the governed, but maximizing consent would be a necessary condition for a legitimate government. There’s more to justifying political authority than simple consequentialist concerns, but even if those are your only concerns I insist that if you can find a better institutional arrangement that provides for the happiness of society than democracy then those should be preferred to democracy.

      2) “As to concerns like rational irrationality, this has limited scope. You’ll notice that many people actually do devote time and energy to being good citizens. They discuss with like-minded people what the best ways to vote are given their values, and consult experts and other sources of distilled information.”

      Seriously? Have you read any of the empirical literature on political ignorance? Deliberation like the present discussion is extremely rare in democracies, it’s the exception, not the rule. I recommend reading the second chapter of Brennan’s “Against Democracy” or Ilya Solimin’s “Democracy and political ignorance.” The problem of irrational and ignorant voters in democracies is far more widespread than you think. The only reason democracies are functional at this point is the extent to which they are undemocratic (see Brennan on this point:…/democracy-works…/

      In addition, you need to do comparative institutional analysis. If other institutional arrangements, like anarchism or epistocracy, can limit the effect of political ignorance better than democracy, then so much the worse for democracy.

      3) Again, you need to do comparative institutional analysis. The argument isn’t that democracies are necessarily centralized, it’s that panarchism and market anarchism do it better. Further, it’s pretty clear that in decentralizing features like federalism have eroded in real-world over time. As for public choice concerns, again like Cory said you need to do institutional analysis to chose which will mitigate those problems better. It isn’t that anarchism wouldn’t have problems of collective action, it’s that the institutional arrangements would handle them better than the status quo.

      4) I reject the very idea that “giving a voice in the government”–and giving a voter a 1/60 million chance of making a difference is a laughably low bar for this–in a democratic sense by giving them the right to vote, etc., has anything to do with human dignity. See especially chapters 3-5 of Brennan’s book for why that’s the case. If democracies yield incompetent governments that don’t respect the basic rights of individuals–which they do to some extent–that’s not respecting human dignity just because it gives you the opportunity to put a little piece of paper in a box. Further, the basics of market competition would give one more voice in political decision making even with a few firms than a monopoly democratic government with a 1/60 million chance of making a difference in an election.

Please keep it civil

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s