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The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey
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The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey

4.47  ·  Rating details ·  465 ratings  ·  57 reviews
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 fairne ...more
Paperback, 365 pages
Published December 11th 2012 by Palgrave Macmillan (first published 2012)
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Aug 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Simply put; this is the best book I've ever read.

This book will not convince the ideological dogmatism that has sunken in the mind of young liberals. However, it will convince the people that are intellectually honest with themselves. I've read 3 books on anarcho-capitalism (Tannehill's, The Market For Freedom, Friedman's, The Machinery of Freedom, and Rothbard's, For A New Liberty) and this is by far the absolute best. Accepting that the fact that the question normative ethics has not yet been
Vidur Kapur
Oct 04, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics, philosophy
I enjoyed this book. The author, Michael Huemer, comprehensively surveys the various arguments against his viewpoint, seeking out the strongest counter-arguments and fair-mindedly considering them. However, if one does not accept Huemer's meta-ethical views, namely his stance of ethical intuitionism, it is more difficult to agree with his conclusions. For someone who follows 'common sense morality', and relies heavily upon their ethical intuitions, the book makes a fairly solid case for anarchis ...more
Alex MacMillan
Jun 04, 2016 rated it did not like it
This definitive treatise of anarcho-capitalist philosophy was a disappointment, as I quickly spotted gaps and unreasonable assumptions within its major premises that were never addressed or acknowledged. The ideological belief that government's innately coercive behavior is entirely illegitimate, and that all human relationships should be ruled by unanimous voluntary consent of the parties involved, rests on a naive and flawed conception of individual rights and liberties.

When the individual is
Dave Burns
Jun 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned
Chapter 6 is worth the price of the book. In chapter 6, Huemer examines the attitudes of philosophers and ordinary people toward authority in light of recent developments in psychology such as the Milgram experiment, Stockholm syndrome, status quo bias, cognitive dissonance, etc. Just as Milgram's subjects gave in to authority figure and then rationalized their behavior, philosophers devised theories to rationalize the state. This chapter surprised me with its originality and persuasiveness. The ...more
Jeffrey Howard
Mar 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Michael Huemer should be one of the more often referenced luminaries of the 21st century defenders of individual liberty, free markets, and voluntary association.

He provides a cool, and intellectually honest defense of a stateless society. "I argue that the eventual development of an anarcho-capitalist order, while not inevitable, is neither impossible nor exceedingly improbable."

After taking on the theoretical, consequential and psychological problems with authority, he turns to his defense of
Mar 11, 2013 rated it liked it
First half of the book explains why the author thinks that there is no moral justification for government. Second half of the book explains how a society without government could function. Some of this is intriguing, some is obvious, some impractical. The second half of the book sketches how 'law and order' might work without government, and why a military might not be necessary, but there's not even the briefest attempt to explain how things like roads and water supplies would be dealt with. So ...more
Luke Simpson
Jan 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Really good introduction to anarcho-capitalist ideas. The book is divided into two parts. In part one, Huemer argues that political authority is an illusion, that is, that governments do not actually have some special authority to coerce their citizens to do whatever they want them to do, and associated with that, citizens do not actually have any obligation to obey the governments ruling over them. This leaves open the possibility that governments are nevertheless desirable to have by virtue of ...more
Daniel Moss
Nov 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely masterful.
Jonathan Rothschild
Sep 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Given that so many reviewers felt this to be the best book they have ever read in political philosophy, I feel compelled to explain why I gave it a less-than-stellar rating. I will not give the main outline of the book as many others have done so. I will limit my remarks to the weaknesses I found in the author's arguments.

I found that the author's arguments display an overreliance on:

1. competitive markets as the best solution to societal arrangements. Yet the author never touches on the problem
Nick Geiser
Oct 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book is a systematic criticism of the concept of political authority, which Huemer analyzes as 1) a power to create duties and 2) a right to coerce. Part I attempts to show that the state has no power to create duties, while Part II attempts to show that the state has no right to coerce. The two parts of the book really are separable, and you can accept the conclusions of each part without accepting the other. For example, you could believe that there is not duty to obey the state, but that ...more
May 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. It is the first book on political philosophy I've read so wasn't sure what to expect but it is easy to read and not dependent on any (abstract) theory. The author discusses the problem of political authority in a 'common sens' setting and how and why anarcho-capitalism might be a better alternative. If, like me, you think anarcho-capitalism sounds ridiculous, this is the book for you. It is one of those rare books that might radically change your perspective (you won' ...more
Dec 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
There is nothing particularly exciting about Huemer's style of writing. You have got to want this knowledge in order to enjoy this book. That being said, I really enjoyed his book. The section on the Psychology of Authority is simply fantastic.

For the armchair anarchist I still prefer Rose's The Most Dangerous Superstition, but Huemer's text definitely makes you look more respectable.
Eric Pavao
Jun 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Excellent. I can't recommend this book enough. ...more
Andreas Bodemer
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
Huemer makes a well crafted argument for Anarcho-Capitalism--one that I don't buy.

Still, it was provocative, and it challenged me. So, I have respect for the author and his arguments.
Jul 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
In this book, Michael Huemer aims to address one of the central questions of political philosophy: is there a legitimate source for the authority of a government? That question can be dismembered in two parts: first, whether there is a justification that allows government to impose to its subjects laws, even when they don't automatically follow from moral duties; second, whether the subjects have a duty to obey the laws created by the state.

Huemer dedicates the first chapter to an exploration of
Seth Green
Feb 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Here's the basic logic of the book, as I understand it.

1) There is a general presumption against violence, or the threat of violence (let's call the union of the two 'coercion').
2) Coercion is justified when the benefits clearly outweigh the costs. The example Noam Chomsky gives is that it's ok for me to push you out of the way of a car, even if it hurts you, and to not ask your consent first.
3) If you're going to use force to do something, you should generally have exhausted non-coercive optio
Sep 18, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: politics
The strongest section in here is on the psychological aspect of obedience and why people follow commands from authority but this isn't a pure political issue since no one thinks you can abolish authority but the issue is the determination of what's legitimate authority. He wants all agents (be it government, corporate or an actual person) to be treated and held to the same standards as if they were the same thing but it should be obvious that soulless entities don't feel guilt and can only have ...more
Robert Jere
Dec 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book questions the very popular idea that government (at least a liberal democratic one) has the right to use force against people, and the people have a corresponding duty to obey it's orders. The book is organised in two parts, the first part deals with the ways in which the authority of the government is usually justified. The second part is a treatise on how an anarcho-capitalist society could work.
Since my political views are almost identical to those of the author, i found most of th
May 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Huemer argues that states are illegitimate and we should let the market rule instead. If you think that sounds crazy, you should read the book, because it really isn't.
I see two big problems with the account in this book
(1) Huemer seems to think that property rights as we know them from our society today are basically legitimate. He doesn't defend this and I think it is wrong. Property rights are a kind of authority that needs to be justified like state authority. Like state demands, property r
Kristaps Fabiāns
Apr 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Truly excellent and outstanding book that illustrates simply and yet comprehensively how political obligation and political authority are illusions conclusively showing that governments by definition have no real right to rule over their citizens.

Unlike some other works this one doesn't rely on some anarchist code of ethics, but instead is based on common sense morality - an ethical foundation that would be accepted by most people. This makes this a 5/5 book, as it will make clear to pretty muc
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. Being my first political philosophy read, I was impressed with the writing style instead of the academic style that it was. The author is basically questioning the authority of the justice and especially criminal jurisdiction. Thus, the majority of his standpoints, even against Rawls are agreeable. Though this is beyond the scope of this book, I would have liked to hear (at least, in short) how the authority works (and does it have a problem as well) beyond just jurisdiction - e.g. fo ...more
Nov 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"The democratic process inhibits the worst government abuses, but it remains imperfect due to widespread ignorance and irrationality on the part of voters. Constitutional restrictions are often impotent, since there is none but the government to enforce the constitution. The separation of powers fails because the branches of government can best promote their interests through making common cause in expanding state power rather than protecting the rights of the people."

The general critique of gov
Jun 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
There's a new anarcho-capitalist in town.
My only complaint about the book is that the author left untouched the role of government in intellectual property and healthcare. The latter is widely regarded as an activity highly important for the government to do, I would say on the same level as courts and police, at least in the current political climate, but as the population keeps getting older, I don't see this topic leave people's mind.

Nevertheless, awesome book.
Apr 29, 2021 rated it really liked it
Any time you read a book by a philosopher professor, you know it's going to get a bit long-winded at times, and this does.

Also, you can get a little bit of though-experiment fatigue- "consider a lifeboat, where...." - "consider a drowning child, and...." - "consider you and your friend are at a bar, and...."

Still a good read, as the ideas are important and do get your gears turning.
Landon Oakes
Apr 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book convinced me to become an anarchist. The case he builds against the authority of the state is so reasonable and clearly stated that the conclusion that the state is an unnecessary evil is hard to resist.
Sep 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
I don't agree with the author's conclusions, and I've never found the libertarian vision of society realistic. If the alternatives he covered were the only ones on offer, though, I'd find his arguments hard to beat. ...more
Seeking Apatheia
Oct 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
One of the better arguments in favor anarcho capitalism. I remain unconvinced but what Huemer does particularly well is challenge the authority of the state as it exists now, and responding to arguments in defense of that authority.
Clear language is always a plus.
Eddie Smith
Jan 10, 2019 rated it did not like it
I have stopped reading this nonsense upon learning that US has "stolen" land from savages.
Tyler Auriuso
Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A must read for political philosophy
Breanna Zimmer
Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

great book which operates
Illustrates the farce of political authority and the superiority of anarchy over democracy. Great, modern day examples.
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47 likes · 13 comments
“According to [this] widely accepted theory…we experience an uncomfortable state, known as ‘cognitive dissonance’, when we have two or more cognitions that stand in conflict or tension with one another – and particularly when our behavior or other reactions appear to conflict with our self-image. We then tend to alter our beliefs or reactions to reduce the dissonance. For instance, a person who sees himself as compassionate yet finds himself inflicting pain on others will experience cognitive dissonance. He might reduce this dissonance by ceasing to inflict pain, changing his image of himself, or adopting auxiliary beliefs to explain why a compassionate person may inflict pain in this situation.” 0 likes
“Government is an extremely prominent and fundamental feature of the structure of our society. We know that people tend to have a powerful bias in favor of the existing arrangements of their own societies. It therefore stands to reason that, whether or not any government were legitimate, most of us would have a strong tendency to believe that some governments are legitimate, especially our own and others like it.” 0 likes
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