The way I apply my belief in anarchy is by trying to live by the principles in my own life. Since I’m living by the principle of non-aggression, it would be entirely hypocritical for me to use any violent or coercive means to achieve my ends. Hence why I’m not voting, because voting (even if there was some hope in it reducing the size of government) is rooted in the violent idea that a majority of people have the right to make decisions for the minority and pluralities. I assume that this sounds like a really radical, impractical way to view democracy, but I have gotten in touch with the moral principles and that is where my concern is. Also, there are books by free-market thinkers who propose how we could operate without government programs and with everyone having complete freedom. It may not be something I see actualized in my lifetime, but free-market anarchy is not intended to be utopian anyway. I see it like this: when someone realizes an institution is wrong (i.e. racism), a small minority begins to actively work against it. It often takes years and years for these seemingly “radical” ideas to take hold. For example, John Locke and John Stuart Mill, without whose philosophical works we would still be British, never got to see the American Revolution. That does not make their contribution any less valuable. In fact, I see it as even more honorable to stand up for an idea that does not involve any kind of instant gratification.
Education is the cornerstone of progress. It is essential to the survival and success of any society. Thomas Jefferson said famously, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and what never will be.” Since very early on in the history of the United States of America, there has been a public education system. The Constitution makes no mention of education, because it was intended to be an implied responsibility of the state and local governments. This begs the question: How does the U.S. legitimately justify its enormous Federal Department of Education? Aside from its questionable legal standing, our current system is rife with bureaucracy, waste, poor results, and massive student loan debt- to name just a few of the countless horrific symptoms brought on by modern policies. Upon examining the issue of education, it is crucial to strike at the root of the problem. As such, the government’s role in education will be scrutinized. How much should we be relying on government for the precious responsibility of education? Furthermore, we may come to find that education would be better off with no government involvement at all.
In our modern society, formal education has transformed into something that is seen as being essential to survival. In the past, the formality of one’s education did not matter nearly as much. An employer was mostly unconcerned with what kind of diploma you had, so long as you were a hard, competent worker who was able to learn through experience. For better or worse, the paradigm has shifted. Now a formal education is the primary criterion emphasized in the employment process. Doors no longer open for someone without diplomas. In many cases, a person’s job application will be thrown away at the sight of no formal education, without any consideration of how else this person may have become uniquely qualified. It is important to acknowledge the role that education plays in economic survival in order to understand why it is so crucial that the system be rethought entirely.
When education’s primary purpose in society is to serve as the meeting of a requirement for employment, many far more valuable purposes of education either take a back seat or are directly contradicted. For example, true education is meant to foster the ability to think critically. Students can hardly be expected to think critically in an environment where deviation from the standards that government sets is met with punishment and bad grades. When you rely on the government for your education (and thus your livelihood), you are not exactly in a position where being critical of the government is seen as a worthwhile cause. True education fosters unique, independent thought. There is no room for this type of thought in the modern standardized and regulated classroom. In our current system, conformity to these standards is rewarded far more often than instances of bold individualism are. Teachers are forced to gear their lessons to “passing the test” rather than to actually imparting knowledge and cognitive skills in their students. As a result, it is questionable how much actual learning is taking place.
Another misunderstood function of education is the development of a work ethic. When a student’s work ethic is developed from such a young age by the standards that government imposes, there is very little chance that this student will ever break out of the underlying mentality of, “The government says that I need to make these sacrifices in order to survive, therefore I have no choice but to do so according to its will.” The attitude stays with the student throughout life, and opens the door for the enormous welfare/warfare state. Would anyone argue that a slave who is unable to question his master does better work than the free man who chooses to work voluntarily and has the ability to experiment with different jobs and methods if he questions the ones he is presently involved with? History and logic prove that such an idea is ludicrous. If this is the case, then a work ethic that is based on achieving real value is far superior to one that is based on meeting unquestionable mandates. Far too often it is mistakenly believed that working hard on something valueless or counterproductive is actually a valuable and productive practice. It follows that huge amounts of time, energy, and brainpower are completely wasted on “working hard”, with no regard for what actual value is being produced by such a process, other than labor itself. These are hardly the types of conditions with which a free society of productive individuals should be satisfied.
Our current educational system is not only problematic from a philosophical standpoint, but also from a legal standpoint. Education is not a responsibility that is granted to the federal government anywhere in the Constitution. Rather, it is an implied power that is reserved to the states under the Tenth Amendment. Therefore, the 1979 creation of the Federal Department of Education is completely unconstitutional. It is easy to see why Congress sought such a monopoly over the education of the entire nation. The idea was that if education was handled by the states, which often allowed for the local city and county governments to have the most say, there was bound to be disparities in the results from state to state. It is no surprise that the federal government would conclude that they could fix things by adding more regulation and throwing more tax money at it.
Has the Department of Education achieved its desired goals? If its goals were to increase the cost of education across the board, while diminishing quality and results, all while fostering a massive debt crisis, then the Department of Education has been a wild success! The premise behind nationalizing education is inherently flawed and logically baffling. The schools are not performing as well as they could be, so the solution is to put the responsibility in the hands of Washington, D.C. bureaucrats? Surely they are insightful enough to be able to truly understand that what is best for little Timmy in a poor rural town in Montana is also exactly the same policy that works best for little Johnny on the Upper West Side of New York City. In reality, the problem had not been that children were being given too much unique attention and that teachers’ methods were too independent. Rather, it was quite the opposite. Classroom sizes were growing and post-World War II faith in government solutions had resulted in greater standardization and overreach on the part of the states [Friedman, 150-158]. When this bigger-government approach failed, it was decided that an even bigger government program had to take over. The results have been predictably horrific. [Williams]
When issues like these become subjects of big-government, it is inevitable that politics and corruption will take hold, and quickly take precedence over an actual increase in value. Politicians who are in charge of education win elections by appealing to people’s emotions rather than to their logic. Therefore it follows that politicians will inevitably adopt policies that appear to be “proactive” in “caring” about education. In other words, it is rare to see a candidate campaign successfully with the platform of “The government cares too much about education.” Even if they do make it into office and try to institute a policy of decentralization, it is far more politically expedient for an opponent to point out how cruel it was for this man to cut funding for school programs. Consequentially, spending increases at the expense of the taxpayer and the students’ education.
Government spending actually has a directly correlative adverse effect on the entire education system. If the point of government involvement in education is to make everyone better off in their pursuit of a future livelihood, then the Department of Education’s consistent policy of subsidies and loans accomplishes the exact opposite of its stated mission. The next economic disaster will undoubtedly be the fault of the Department of Education: the student loan bubble. In recent years, this idea that “everyone deserves to go to college” has resulted in everyone getting loans to go to college from the Department of Education. When the Department of Education subsidizes student loans, it effectively allows universities to charge more in tuition. It works like this: More people want to go to college. More students have a source for borrowing money (regardless of whether or not they should truly be able to take out such loans); colleges raise their tuition rates to match the students’ newly inflated demand; greater loans are needed to deal with these higher prices; colleges raise their tuitions again; the cycle repeats and exacerbates itself over time. [Woods] [Pope]
As the cost of education inevitably increases, the value of a degree is not increasing with it. Since more people are getting diplomas, each individual diploma becomes less precious. This is the basic principle of inflation. So just because the amount of money in the system is increasing, it does not follow that the quality of professors and educational institutions needs to improve in order to justify the increasing prices. Finding a job after graduation, due to the inflated number of students now floating through this system, is becoming increasingly less certain. Since all the student loan policy is doing is creating an inflationary bubble, students are being faced with massive loan debt and are lacking the massive ability to pay it back. The more these policies are allowed to take hold, the worse this debt crisis is going to become. Eventually, all of these students will be forced to default on their loans. At this point, the government will print even more money and increase taxes even further to try to offset these costs. This is a disastrous policy that will lead to the downfall of our entire economy, much like the Weimar Republic. [von Mises, 193-203]
The solution to all of these problems exists in the free market. This does not mean quasi-free market approaches such as selective vouchers. The true solution is to allow schools to compete with one another and to dismantle the current accepted structure. Perhaps at the Kindergarten through high school level, the factory-model of education would be proven outdated and grossly inefficient. Maybe it would also be realized that students no longer need a summer vacation in order to work on their family farms in Brooklyn and Chicago. We will never find out if we continue down this path of Orwellian government monopoly on education. The first step would be to abolish the Department of Education. This would put an immediate end to the exacerbation of the student loan bubble. It would also put would-be tax money back in the hands of parents, who would be able to have more control over how their children get educated.
Over time, if government became as uninvolved as possible in education, the quality would increase drastically due to competition and the appreciation of actual value rather than perceived political value. When subjected to the free market, schools would be held far more accountable for their quality and efficiency. Waste, which is a staple of our bureaucratic system, would be combatted for the sake of being able to compete effectively and keep costs down. In our current system, in order to get more funding, your school has to produce poor results. To a politician or bureaucrat, this is a sure sign of needing more money. By contrast, the free market incentivizes success. The better your school performs in the free market, the greater the demand will be, and the more economically viable your school will become. As far as higher education goes, fewer people will be able to go to college. However, the amount of people who were truly in a place to afford college without becoming a debt prisoner would stay the same. As a result, bachelor degrees will start getting their value back, as will high school degrees, and so forth down the line. At the rate we’re currently going, students will not be able to find post-graduation jobs unless they go to graduate school. Then once everyone starts getting loans to go to graduate school, it will eventually become necessary that everyone goes to some kind of post-grad school and spends even more time and money, with no regard to whether this is truly valuable and necessary in comparison to alternatives. This cycle would continue and get worse.
Had Thomas Jefferson realized how expansive this nation would grow to be, I am positive that he would feel extremely uncomfortable with the idea of mandatory government-run education. What Jefferson saw was a vulnerable nation that was experiencing precious freedom for the first time. He saw that it was necessary that people learn the values of liberty and that society was able to progress. Jefferson’s advocacy of state-run (not federally-run) government education in Virginia was motivated by these principles. [McCluskey] At the time, that may have been a responsible solution for such a small-scale operation. However, it has come to bear that the larger this nation grows, the more drastically government solutions fail. It is clear that in order to truly preserve liberty, we must abolish a system that is only able to exist off money stolen from citizens through taxation and in return produces mind-numbed debt slaves. While I am certain that the optimal solution lies in no government involvement in education at all, for now it must be realized that decentralization would be the best possible first step. As we decentralize, the nation will become more economically efficient and the crisis of having to educate the poor would become far less of a challenge. If we democratically vote to ensure that some of our tax money goes to educating the poor, why wouldn’t the free market democratically allocate resources accordingly, without the obstacles of political bureaucracy and waste that are currently in place? The issue of education is very intricate and every aspect of it needs to be scrutinized in order for true improvement to take hold. What is most important is that this issue be examined with logic and evidence rather than appealing to emotion and politics. If this nation was meant to be free, so should education be- from the shackles of government.
McCluskey, Neal. “On Federal Education, Think Progress Should Think Harder.” Cato @ Liberty. Cato Institute, 28 Dec. 2010. Web. 26 Apr. 2012. <http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/on-federal-education-think-progress-should-think-harder/>.
Pope, Justin. “Student Loans: The Next Bubble?” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 11 June 2011. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/06/student-loans-the-next-bu_n_1078730.html>.
Von Mises, Ludwig. “IX. The Weimar Republic and Its Collapse.” Omnipotent Government, the Rise of the Total State and Total War. New Haven: Yale UP, 1944. Print.
“Why Should Congress Abolish the Federal Role in Education?” HSLDA: Homeschooling Advocates. National Center for Home Education, 12 Jan. 2000. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. <http://www.hslda.org/docs/nche/000000/00000063.asp>.
Williams, Walter E. “Education.” Creators.com. Creators Syndicate, 16 Sept. 2009. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. <http://www.creators.com/opinion/walter-williams/education.html>.
Woods, Thomas. “The Student Loan Racket: Ron Paul Right Again.” TomWoods.com.
Tom Woods, 23 Oct. 2011. Web. 21 Apr. 2012. <http://www.tomwoods.com/blog/the-student-loan-racket-ron-paul-right-again/>.
(Wrote this paper for my Political Philosophy Class. Had to compare John Rawls and Robert Paul Wolff. I know Wolff is not very sympathetic to capitalism, but he is just amazingly and sufficiently anti-state in this particular work, and destroys Rawls.)
The concept of authority has been present throughout history. Authority has been presumed in regards to morality, in the form of religious hierarchal structures. It has likewise been used in the realm of politics as a concentration of force within an organized state. Because of the nature of morality and political policy, there has been an inevitable overlap of moral authority into political authority, and political authority into moral authority. Political authority is often just the vehicle through which a moral authority is exercised. More often than not, the right of some individuals to claim authority over other individuals goes unquestioned. Certainly it would upset the sense of order that is in place if such sentiments of skepticism pervaded the law-abiding masses. There are, however, certain remarkable moments in history when man has been so boldly logical as to challenge the very root of any authoritative claim. We are led to the question of whether or not authoritative force could ever actually exist with moral legitimacy.
It is crucial to understand that the current mainstream paradigm of “left-wing” vs. “right-wing” is so misguided and oversimplified that it leads to a fundamental misinterpretation of where the true ends of the political spectrum lie and what is at the very root of their division. All political philosophy begins with either a commitment to or a complete refutation of social contract theory. In the realm of political philosophy, there are those whose theories depend on the validity of social contracts in order for their ideas to be morally justified and those who reject the validity of social contracts altogether. Without a social contract of some sort, there cannot be a legitimate moral justification for the existence of a state. The social contract excuses the surrendering of personal liberty in some cases, for the purposes of achieving perceived senses of “justice”, “fairness”, and “security”. Therefore, within the context of a social contract, you are only as free as the legislation advanced by your state allows you to be.
John Rawls’ “Theory of Justice” is heavily reliant on social contract. From the outset, it is presumed that his solutions to social problems would be applied to a constitutional democracy, or at least a system of a similar ilk. This premise presumes the capability of lawmakers to have a legitimate right to implement their interpretations of what types of laws are just. It also presumes that a democratic majority is qualified, by nature of having greater numbers, to impose their ideas of justice on the rest of society. Since these presumptions are made, it is therefore an obligation of the citizens to “play fairly”- to obey laws that they might see as unjust so as to preserve whatever sense of order, justice, and security the state does provide. To be fair to Rawls, he did outline instances where it would be just to disobey the state and not hold up your end of the social contract. However, upon examining the conditions under which such actions are justified, it could be argued that from the very inception of a state’s exertion of power, it could be seen by at least some in a society as morally imperative that they rebel against the state. This sentiment would not please Rawlsians, but nonetheless there is no valid philosophical reason for not subjecting the principle of “fair play” to the most strict scrutiny and skepticism possible.
In Robert Paul Wolff’s “In Defense of Anarchism,” he seeks to find a morally valid balance between personal autonomy and political authority. Is personal autonomy something that could ever be truly stamped from existence? Is political authority even real? Wolff explains that personal autonomy is man’s capacity and right to make decisions for himself. This is the most precious right of man and it is his obligation to take personal responsibility for his own actions. Furthermore, even when an outside authority commands a man to do something, it is the autonomous man, still existing no matter how convincing the illusion of the ruling authority’s legitimacy is, that chooses to take the actions he takes. There is literally no way, therefore, that any one man or group of men could truly subvert the will of another man to such an extent that they become an actualized replacement for his moral autonomy and personal responsibility.
Rawls claims that men have are obliged to “fair play” for the sake of justice, but Wolff sees this as inefficient in taking personal autonomy into account. Wolff argues that sometimes, it is necessary and morally virtuous for a man to comply with the orders of authority (be it a ruler or society as a whole). However, in doing so, the morally conscious man is not taking such actions as a valid recognition of the authority’s legitimacy. Rather, on some level, the man is invoking his own personal responsibility to examine a situation for himself and make decisions according to what will produce the most favorable results in his eyes; in his morally autonomous conscience. Even in the most obscene instances of a state exerting force on an individual to get him to comply, such as a tax collector holding a gun to a man’s head to get him to hand over all of his money to pay for a pair of golden underwear for the king, the individual is still in a position to fight back. A rational person would conclude that such an action would be foolish and result in definite negative outcomes.
Notice that at no point in this decision-making process is the legitimacy of the authority at hand even considered a factor. What is relevant in such instances is that a force currently exists, autonomy currently exists, and the two are in direct conflict with one another. Taking a step back, why don’t we challenge the legitimacy of the authority in this case? As political philosophers, Wolff argues, isn’t it essential that any kind of sacrifice of personal autonomy be scrutinized to the extreme? In doing so, it comes to light that there is no circumstance in which man has a legitimate right or actual ability to subvert the autonomy of any other man, no matter what the intentions are. Rather, what occurs in an implementation of state force is, at best, an institutional form of highly developed intimidation. No matter how intimidating and influential a state’s or even a society’s actions are; no matter how pervasive and dominant the “tradition” of bowing to authority and accepting social contracts is; it is still completely impossible for an individual’s autonomy to be legitimately deleted. Therefore, there is no such thing as true authority of human beings over one another.
It is inherently erroneous to presume that authority can be justified in its actions just by virtue of the fact that people cower in deference to its power. Power and intimidation are entirely irrelevant to actual legitimacy. In any society, there will be instances where the laws happen to coincide with justice. This does not make the legislators and enforcers themselves the source of justice. There will just as often (sometimes less so, sometimes more so) be instances where the laws happen to breed injustice. Once again, this does not make the legislators and enforcers themselves the source of injustice. Instead, it is the personal actions and moral consciousness of each individual partaking in a society that are the true roots of moral accountability. Justice is not subject to the beliefs of whatever political party is in power. Men are in charge of the interpretation of justice, not the creation of it. Therefore, society should be set up in such a way that personal autonomy is never suppressed by law. The only system of law that truly respects personal autonomy is not a constitutional democracy, but anarchy.
I happen to agree with Wolff on almost everything in this essay. The agnostic approach that he takes to government speaks to the core of my beliefs. The rejection of social contract theory is essential in assessing society from a fundamentally moral starting point. There are obviously some very challenging questions that could be posed to anarchists such as Wolff. Without state force, it is often feared that moral relativism will wreak havoc on society and turn us all into hedonistic animals. I believe that answers to questions of this nature have been outlined in the works of other anarchists, such as the father of Voluntaryism, Lysander Spooner and the father of Anarcho-Captialism, Murray Rotherbard. However, the burden is on Wolff to come up with explanations of how justice would be handled in his anarchistic society.
Perhaps the only weak point I see in Wolff’s argument is the fact that it stops at the abolition of the state and does not go on to explain the workings of a stateless society and how they would be preferable to the tyranny of governments. Questions of economic systems and interpersonal relationships are not addressed in this work and are thus open to interpretation and experimentation. This does not at all hamper the validity of the moral philosophy itself that leads to the abolition of the state; it merely poses challenges for the practical implications of the implementation of such a system. What is so important about this work is that we get to this point of exposing the illegitimacy of political authority. It is only from here that we can truly continue on a moral path of analyzing societies and determining what is just and how to achieve that justice.