This book is deceptively poor and relatively weak. Influential in political philosophy, it outlines the position of philosophical anarchism which, acc...moreThis book is deceptively poor and relatively weak. Influential in political philosophy, it outlines the position of philosophical anarchism which, according to Wolff, is the idea that one must 'treat all governments as non-legitimate bodies whose commands must be judged and evaluated in each instance before they are obeyed' (P. 71). Not an especially offensive position, Wolff's particular brand was paradoxically praised within the usual Americanized libertarianism that desires to swap one form of tyranny (government) for another (private property), despite his position being broadly Leftist.
The central claim in this book is that authority (auctoritas), which is 'the right to command, and correlatively, the right to be obeyed' (P. 4), cannot be reconciled in any meaningful way with moral autonomy. Following Kant, Wolff defines the autonomous man as 'not subject to the will of another. He may do what another tells him, but not because he has been told to do it. He is therefore, in the political sense of the word, free' (P. 14). Wolff's suggestion is that even though the physical world is determinate, metaphysically man feels free, is possessed of reason and is therefore morally responsible and autonomous. He deplores mindless and servile obedience - not without reason - and rejects this as a betrayal of man's moral responsibility. To follow the command of an authority (their auctoritas)would be immoral.
Wolff does distinguish between political and theoretical authority, the latter being 'the advice of others', morally excusable because one 'makes it his own by determining for himself whether it is good advice'. One can learn from others about his moral obligations, but only 'by hearing from them arguments whose validity he recognizes even though he did not think of them himself' (P. 13). For Wolff, the reader of this book would be morally autonomous if he accepts the position in this book if he determines that philosophical anarchism is a valid position based on the arguments here.
The principle problem is 'how the moral autonomy of the individual can be made compatible with the legitimate authority of the state' (P. vii). Wolff's answer, as noted above, is that it can't. Yet Wolff's Kantian position holds certain errors. His conception of the individual is that of a detached reason, a separated autonomy under no real influence from the world. This is a problem, as Foucault has gone to great lengths to show and even the most lazy historian can demonstrate conclusively, moral ideas and subjects are constructed through the interrelation between power in the discursive space and institutional normalization. Similarly, Wolff misplaces authority (auctoritas), stating that it 'resides in persons; they possess it – if indeed they do at all – by virtue of who they are and not by virtue of what they command' (P. 6). This is clearly not true, as a policeman is obeyed not because the individual has authority, but instead because the institution possesses it and the particular policeman merely represents authority. The policeman is a symbol, the bearer of authority through power relationships rather than authority embodied. This epistemological error stems from Wolff's irresponsible methodological individualism. By displacing the institution, and ignoring the very notion that power relationships shape ideas beyond the individual's reason, make the argument seem trite and exaggerated in this post-structural intellectual climate.
Similarly, Wolff's final chapter is dull and laughable. His lack of historical knowledge makes his sketching of a stateless society seem wildly more ignorant than is deserving of a well respected political philosopher. Had he ever glanced at an account of CNT-FAI Spain circa '36, I remain convinced his head would have exploded. His philosophical anarchism, then, seems like a mere cop-out from a more robust political anarchist position (perhaps this is why it received praise by American libertarians, whom aren't real anarchists by any stretch of the imagination). Instead, Wolff's philosophical work appears to have the character of childishness, despite it raising some very pertinent and interesting questions.
Wolff's central question remains badly answered, however. His position, for its epistemological fault's and Kantian subjectivity, as well as its ignorance of social structures and power relationships, undermine his answer to the question of whether autonomy (which does exist in some capacity, if E.P. Thompson is to be believed) can be reconciled with authority (auctoritas). His answer, his philosophical anarchism, is inadequate and displaces some of the more important questions for political philosophy and the individual's social being in relation to the State.
For this reason, the first chapter is worth reading. Beyond that, though, the philosophical metaphysics deployed by Wolff are outdated and useless when interrogating questions in political philosophy. Metaphysical anarchism (which is probably what it should be called) might be an interesting position, but Wolff's version is profoundly lacking. This book is probably worth avoiding, and if one wished to read some 'real' anarchism, one might be better served reading Rudolf Rocker or Emma Goldman.
Methodologically, this book is a very important work. Outlining the method of the social sciences, Popper criticizes Historicism at length, and makes...moreMethodologically, this book is a very important work. Outlining the method of the social sciences, Popper criticizes Historicism at length, and makes some good arguments. That said, he doesn't have much of a grasp on what history is, nor and overly good handle on Marxist theory. His opinions on history are laughable, and his idea of methodological individualism is so problematically ideological to almost appear as absurd that he couldn't consider the alternative. His section on institutions goes some way to alleviating this, but as Carr points out in 'What is History?', Popper's conception of the subject is so irretrievably Kantian as to be irrelevant for philosophical discourse in the age of post-structuralism and Foucauldian power analytics.
Read with care, Popper is wrong about a few very important things; also he makes some outrageous assertions about history that get dispelled fairly quickly even at VCE level.(less)