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Most Dangerous Superstition Paperback – 2011
"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Learn more
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(1) No government genuinely has the special moral authority that most people think governments have.
(2) The belief in government authority is incredibly dangerous and destructive.
Indeed, as Rose writes on the back cover, "The vast majority of theft, extortion, intimidation, harassment, assault, and even murder--the vast majority of man's inhumanity to man--comes [from the belief in government authority]. If humankind could give up this one false idea, even without otherwise acquiring another scrap of wisdom or compassion, the vast majority of injustice and oppression would instantly cease."
Further, I agree with Larken Rose's statement that the belief in government authority is "the most important issue in the world."
So why am I rating this book only 3 stars?
Briefly, because I believe Rose's arguments defending his two main claims are rather weak.
To give one example, Rose begs the question when he writes: "There is no ritual or document through which any group of people can delegate to someone else a right which no one in the group possesses. And that self-evident truth, all by itself, demolishes any possibility of legitimate 'government'" (p. 35).
For a much stronger defense of the anarchist libertarian view that no government has political authority, see the first half of Professor Michael Huemer's outstanding book "The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey."
Rose also does a poor job making a case for the position that the belief in government authority is the most dangerous superstition. While he succeeds in showing that it is dangerous and can make basically good people do wicked things, he does not include an economic analysis showing the magnitude of the impact. Certainly this economic discussion would be needed to adequately defend the thesis that the belief in political authority is the *most* dangerous superstition in the world today.
Lastly, I would like to say that I greatly appreciated the valuable insights into the nature of the belief in political authority in Larken Rose's book. The insights in his book go beyond those presented in his popular YouTube animations. He expertly illustrates the many senses in which people believe that governments have a special right to rule and the many senses in which people believe subjects have an obligation to obey. (In fact, Rose's book may be more aptly titled "The Nature of the Belief in Government Authority.") Most of these insights are not to be found in Michael Huemer's book. For this reason, I recommend "The Most Dangerous Superstition."
It would be interesting to go back and outline the book. As I read it I kept having the feeling "I've read this page before". It was that way all the way through. I don't know if it was repetition or getting the same ideas across using different contexts and examples. I was tempted, all the way through to say ... "ok, I've got it ... now what?".
Reaching the end I was still left with the "Now what?" question. When you get rid of laws and authority, then you have to consider if the void that leaves needs to be refilled ... and if so, with what. The book was of zero help to me in this regard.
When I recommend this book to others, I tell them to read the two paragraphs in bold print on the last page. It sets the stage. I have loaned the book out so I can't quote those paragraphs here ... and probably shouldn't quote them anyway.
But read this book.
I'm now looking for the book that, knowing "I am the boss of me", what do I do?. How do I get a road built? How do I get an airport built? How do I keep from having 100's of airports in every city? I suspect it's like an addiction. When you take away the vice, there is a period of withdrawal ... and then you go find something to fill the void while guarding against falling back into the old paradigm.
I'm finding it easy to agree with the author that government/authority is imaginary and only exists in human minds and binds them and makes them behave immorally. But what I'm uncomfortable with is the author's reliance on human morality to evolve a better system.
FWIW morals are imaginary as well and only exist in human minds and differ across people and societies. Since any 'authority' is evil as per the author (and I agree), a 'moral authority' is similarly evil, and it implies that we cannot come up with a universally acceptable moral standard. So, any system that relies on human morals is akin to a system that depends on human beliefs. It'll just spawn moral crusaders and moral jihadists who'll be ready to sacrifice their lives to uphold their morals. This, in a lot of ways, is akin to how churches and monarchs operated in the past and the governments operate today. And it is the very problem the author intended to address in the first place.
And there is also the logistical question of scale and efficiency. Several systems that operate beautifully on a small scale will just miserably fail when scaled up. It might be possible to inspire and organize a small society devoid of central authority, and that would be an interesting experiment. For that matter, even a government hosted by a small society will function quite well. Everything breaks loose when scaled up unless anarchism intends to convert societies back to tribal groups.
Interestingly, the author has conceded in the book that he doesn't have the complete answer for how anarchism would work and that as more people buy into this idea, the right system will emerge. For a book that makes such sweeping statements about the dysfunction, abuse, and inefficiency of the current system, one would expect that it also proposes a full alternate solution and implementation mechanics. But no, that is left as an exercise for the readers.
In summary, I appreciate the author's intent. But without presenting the implementation details of an alternate system, and how it'll function on a large scale, and how it'll address many of the new problems that'll show up, I can consider this work as nothing more than a fantasy.