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The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey [Kindle Edition]

Michael Huemer
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Modern states commonly deploy coercion in a wide array of circumstances in which the resort to force would clearly be wrong for any private agent. What entitles the state to behave in this manner? And why should citizens obey its commands? This book examines theories of political authority, from the social contract theory, to theories of democratic authorization, to fairness- and consequence-based theories. Ultimately, no theory of authority succeeds, and thus no government has the kind of authority often ascribed to governments.

The author goes on to discuss how voluntary and competitive institutions could provide the central goods for the sake of which the state is often deemed necessary, including law, protection from private criminals, and national security. An orderly and liveable society thus does not require acquiescence in the illusion of political authority.

Editorial Reviews


'Huemer has produced not just a brilliant work of political philosophy, but a gripping page-turner. With an engaging style and sharp wit, Huemer demolishes two entrenched dogmas: that we have a duty to obey the law, and the state has the right to force us to obey. Huemer's conclusions may be controversial, but he makes them seem like commonsense.' - Jason Brennan, Georgetown University, USA 'Michael Huemer is my favorite philosopher. The Problem of Political Authority is his best book yet. Using moral premises you probably already accept, and clear but subtle arguments, Huemer leads you step-by-step to a radical yet compelling conclusion: government as we know it is an unnecessary evil. If you're tired of political books that merely preach to the choir, prepare to be amazed.' - Bryan Caplan, George Mason University, USA

About the Author

MICHAEL HUEMER is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado, USA. He is author of Ethical Intuitionism (Palgrave, 2005). 

Product Details

  • File Size: 890 KB
  • Print Length: 395 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (October 29, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00AINH80O
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #435,375 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
104 of 109 people found the following review helpful
I've read almost every work of libertarian political philosophy ever written. This is simply the best book in the genre.

What's so great about it? Simple: Huemer scrupulously reasons from widely shared moral premises to surprising conclusions. There's no question begging, no obscurantism, and no bullet biting. The book begins by pointing out that if a private individual acted like a government, almost everyone would consider his behavior immoral. He then charitably considers all the major attempts to defend this asymmetry.

If you'd like to learn more about political views you disagree with, *The Problem of Political Authority* is ideal. Huemer earnestly tries to engage thoughtful readers of all descriptions. He toes no party line, makes no ad hominems, and never hectors. He's just a very smart, broadly knowledgeable scholar making a careful case for a controversial conclusion.

P.S. If you want to know more about Huemer's intellectual qualities before you buy, check out his TED talk:[...]
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
'...a gripping page-turner. With an engaging style and sharp wit...' are among the first words of the first editorial review currently on amazon's page for this book. Oh cruel fate that I believed those words! Having, with an increasing sense of duty, slogged through to the end, I can only conclude they were written as a delicious prank, or a throwaway by a friend of the author compensating for an inability to find time to read a worthy tome. Sadly, despite the book's considerable strengths, its merits did not include being a page turner with style and wit.

Michael Huemer is an anarchist philosopher. Like most anarchists, he is struck by the compelling virtue of anarchist ideas and their value for healing our world. Unlike some anarchists, he also seems well aware of how completely crazy anarchist ideas can seem to the uninitiated. Being perceived as crazy doesn't help communication, even if you are right. This careful, sober and sedate presentation can strike nobody as crazy, though the quiet presentation cloaks incendiary ideas.

This book's strength is not in its ability to grip the reader, nor in new concepts, for the ideas it raises are discussed in great detail in many other places. Rather the book's value is in its up to date presentation of the core elements of the anarchist canon and the care Dr. Huemer has taken to present those ideas in ways that would be accessible to the average intelligent adult, without condescending or sacrificing clarity and rigour. I marked many of Dr. Huemer's formulations to use in my own conversations. Dr. Huemer is also at scrupulous pains to understand opposing arguments and present them, not as straw men, but as the way they'd want to be presented. He is then polite and almost apologetic as he demolishes them.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book is a gem, destined to become a classic, and any serious student of the field should have it on their shelf. They should even, dare I say, read it.

The topic that Humer’s astonishing tour de force concerns itself with is the moral and ethical underpinnings of state power, an area known in political philosophy as the "problem of political authority".

In considering the justification for the state, a nagging question naturally arises. Most people would claim it is morally impermissible for your neighbor to force you to give money to a charity of his choice at gunpoint. However, in stark contrast, most people would claim it is permissible for the state to do essentially the same thing, that is, to extort taxes from you using the threat of force in order to spend those funds on projects other than your own.

Most people appear to claim there is an important difference between these cases — otherwise, they would not believe in the legitimacy of the state.

The eponymous problem of political authority is the question of what the distinction between these cases might be — on what basis, if any, might we justify this difference in treatment between the behavior we consider ethically justified from individual actors versus the power we accord to the state.

Huemer systematically addresses the justifications that have been articulated for political authority over the centuries, from hypothetical social contract theory to consequentialism and everything in between. I will give away the punchline by noting that his arguments would appear to fatally damage all of them.

Political philosophers often start by attempting to construct a complete moral framework within which they justify their positions.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very thorough, balanced, and in-depth January 2, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Finally something that deals with the major thorny issues of political authority, particularly the social contract. The book is incredibly well balanced and deals honestly and directly with opposing theories. It also doesn't pre-suppose some grand theory that anarchists and libertarians usually assert (as you'd guess by the author of Ethical Intuitionism). For people already "sold" on anarcho-capitalism, the second half of the book (which proposes an alternative solution) is very cursory, but at the same time, the approach from the beginning of the book -- of using common sense examples and intuitions to reason about moral and probable solutions and outcomes -- is very enlightening. Overall, this is a great book for on-the-fence libertarians, it's also a great book for non-libertarians since it is so balanced (in considering opposing views), and even for anarcho-capitalists for dealing with major philosophical issues without simple flippant assumptions or remarks.

I'd like to see Dr. Huemer create a webpage which lists all the questions he gets after this book and his responses.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars In just the way a good course on statistics forever changes the way...
This should be a must-read for every……human. In just the way a good course on statistics forever changes the way you'll view any chart or stat you come upon in the media, Heumer's... Read more
Published 11 days ago by Helen_Npt
4.0 out of 5 stars This book will very likely challenge your ideas about government
This is a fascinating book. The author begins by putting forward the case that there is no philosophical basis that can justify any form of government. Read more
Published 16 days ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant. The simple examples and thought experiments throughout the...
Starting from common sense, the author reaches the conclusion that no government has the moral right to coerce, and citizens do not have the moral obligation to obey. Brilliant. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Steven White
4.0 out of 5 stars Pure and undefiled logic: one of the best cases for...
Really fantastic book. Some of the middle third was way too tedious for my taste, but the rest is pure and undefiled logic. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Austin Archibald
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book.
Fantastic. Easy to understand. I have purchased 4 copies, three as gifts to other people with whom I've sparked anarchs-capitalist conversations with. I highly recommend this book.
Published 2 months ago by Drake
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
The beginning of the end of democratic government! Finally!
Published 2 months ago by patfitz
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great book.
Published 2 months ago by MTF
5.0 out of 5 stars The is a great book. It is well thought out & organized ...
The is a great book. It is well thought out & organized through progressing propositions. It's argumentation is based in the science of logic in the formal sense. Read more
Published 2 months ago by BlueCapitalist
5.0 out of 5 stars Concise and accessible.
All you need to know about defending liberty is in these pages. Concise and accessible, every page is packed with knowledge.
Published 3 months ago by Mark R.
4.0 out of 5 stars Part 1 makes the price of the book worth it
I got this book for Christmas after I heard the author interviewed by Tom Woods and was intrigued by his arguments. Read more
Published 4 months ago by bs12388
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More About the Author

Michael Huemer received his BA from UC Berkeley in 1992 and his PhD from Rutgers University in 1998. He is presently professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is the author of _Skepticism and the Veil of Perception_, _Ethical Intuitionism_, and _The Problem of Political Authority_, as well as more than 40 academic articles in epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, and metaphysics.

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