Virtual Reading Group: The Problem With Political Authority

Michael Huemer, The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey (Palgrave MacMillan, 2013)

Huemer defines political authority as the entitlement the state allegedly possesses to command our obedience, regardless of the justice or rationality of its laws and regulations, and the obligation we have to obey it.

Huemer’s aim in this book is two-fold: (i) to show that the state does not possess such authority, and (ii) to show that its coercive monopoly on legislation, regulation, and punishment is unjust.

Huemer’s argument against political authority is simple: no one else has a right to coerce us to obey unjust or irrational orders, hence neither does the state. Everyone has a right to coercively prevent us from robbing, assaulting, or killing others, hence do does the state. The state’s power over us is just that: power, not authority. Huemer then addresses every major argument made by defenders of political authority to show how each one fails.

In the latter half of the book Huemer argues that the state’s coercive monopoly on legislation, regulation, and punishment is unjust. People should be free to choose whatever protection agency they want, with its own set of laws and regulations. Here he addresses every major argument made by defenders of a monopoly and opponents of anarchism.

Our task will be to evaluate some of Huemer’s arguments against political authority and, depending on student interest, in favor of anarchism.