The Epistemological Basis of Anarchism:
An Open Letter to Objectivists and Libertarians
by R.A. Childs, Jr., continued

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Society is not an entity; it is a name given to certain patterns of human relationships. Society is a function of the actions of two or more individual people, and does not exist without them. Being a name given to certain relationships, and since relationships presuppose things which are related, society is nothing other than individual acting men. Since this is true, society has no "self" and no "interests" to protect, other than those already possessed by the individuals who constitute it. This being true, the ethical principles which guide men's choices and actions in a nonsocial context also guide men's choices and actions in a social context. Thus society, meaning relationships with other people, is not a value "in itself." It is a value if it benefits the individuals who act, and is not a value if it destroys or hinders them from attaining their rational self-interest. Not all societies, or human relationships, hence, are in man's rational self-interest. Basically man has two things to gain from social relationships: knowledge and trade. Other things, like friendship and love, are either subsumed by these two, or [are] secondary to them. When the use of aggressive physical force is barred (i.e., does not exist) in social relationships, then a man is free to associate with those who benefit him in some way, and free to avoid those who do not. He is also free to associate with different people to the degree which he judges proper.

But since rights are a function of self-interest in a social context (that is, they are a derivative concept, not a primary), they cannot at any point leave the individual disarmed, they cannot say to him: "It is never proper to use violence against another, even when he is attacking you." This pacifist position, built on the twin palsy foundations of a sloppy definition of rights and the fallacy of context-dropping (ignoring, in this case, the derivation of rights from the primary: self-interest), is anti-life in essence, and hence morally evil, since it tells man that it is moral to attain values, and immoral to use coercion against another peaceful person to deprive him of his, but also immoral to defend oneself and one's values against attack. But since men are capable of using aggressive violence, or the threat of it (intimidation) against others, this aspect of human relationships cannot be ignored. The concept which preserves and protects individual rights in their derivation from rational self-interest is the concept of self-defense, which includes retaliation. Self-defense and retaliation are not a violation of rights, since the derivation of rights clearly shows that rights preserve and protect the freedom of action of one who is noncoercive. The only people whom it is proper to use force against are those who directly, through violence or intimidation, threaten to (or do in fact) force one to act against his rational judgment, his rational self-interest, or who expropriate values from him without his consent. In short, the basic principle which defines and protects the pursuit of rational self-interest by "members" of a society is this: no man or group of men is morally entitled to use invasive or aggressive violence, or the threat of it, such as intimidation, or a substitute for it, such as fraud, against a nonaggressor (in this sense of "aggressor").

This does not, of course, mean that there are no objective moral principles defining and sanctioning the proper uses and extent of retaliatory force. A man, by an act of aggression, causes a value-loss in his victim (i.e., he causes him to lose some state of being which he saw as beneficial to himself, some rank on his value hierarchy). By his act of aggression, then, the aggressor creates a debt which he owes and must pay to his victim. "Justice demands that the aggressor who causes the loss, damage, or destruction of an innocent man's values pay for his aggression by repaying the victim for his loss, plus all reasonable expenses directly occasioned by the aggression (such as apprehending the aggressor. Furthermore, the aggressor owes a specific amount which can be objectively determined, and he owes no more than that amount (if this were not true, there could be no justice). To make him pay more than he owes (as punishment — 'to teach him a lesson') is an act of injustice. An aggressor owes no more than the debt he has created by his irrational actions." (From Morris and Linda Tannehill's Liberty via the Market, p. 7. Emphases in original.)

This is, basically, the principle of objective justice in retaliation. The purpose of retaliation is to repay the victim for the loss suffered. Now, there is an immense difficulty in applying this principle to certain contexts — granted. But the problem exists in every other realm as well, and is an epistemological difficulty (i.e., "How do we know?"). The standard by which one judges what is owed is an objective one; that is, it is determined by the nature of reality. The standard is, simply, the contextual hierarchy of values of the victim when the aggression took place — for all losses are value losses, and there is no way to "measure" values outside the context and hierarchy in which they exist. As all acts of aggression are against individual people, it is only individual men who are harmed and suffer loss. Those who were not harmed by the act of aggression can have no concern in retaliating, with two exceptions: (1) if the aggressor shows by a pattern of behavior that he is a real threat to those others not yet involved, they are justified in stopping him, and (2) since the victim possesses the right of self-defense and retaliation, he can delegate his authority to judge and act (his "right" to self-defense and retaliation, in a sense) to representatives or agents, who may then properly act on his behalf. At any time, of course, other people may impose any other sanctions against the criminal they wish, since they must judge with whom to deal. There is of course an immense problem here when we are considering the problem of the destruction of an irreplaceable value, such as a human life. But this is outside the scope of this paper, and it does not in any sense negate the validity of the general principle in question.

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Published by permission of the Hoover Institution Archives, Elena S. Danielson, Ph.D., archivist.

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