06 May 2011

Is Coercion Inevitable?

Pacifism, Politics 9 Comments

I came across this interesting clip from a Western journalist interviewing a Soviet physicist in the 1960s. The part that caught my attention:

It amuses me when I go abroad for conferences and hear my American colleagues prattle on about the “scientific method.” I don’t doubt their sincerity. They genuinely believe that the “best science” will rise to the top through experiments and an objective weighing of the evidence. They genuinely believe that there could be a physics without politics. But in reality, of course, physics–and all science, regardless of the discipline–is whatever the dominant group says that it is. If some scientists believe Theory A, while others believe Theory B, then there are only three possible outcomes: (1) The proponents of one theory bite their tongues and pretend to believe in the oppose theory, or (2) they forfeit their academic positions or (3) they emigrate to another country where their preferred theory is the dominant one. No other outcome is possible. All science is coercive.

Now, does anybody buy the above view of science? Living as the Soviet physicist did, in a highly politicized world, you can understand why he would utter such nonsense–but clearly it is nonsense.

Well, now you know my reaction to this Gene Callahan post on libertarians and property rights, which my (genuinely) favorite pseudo-Keynesian Daniel Kuehn is swooning over.

I don’t think Gene (and Daniel) are being fair to sophisticated versions of Rothbardian libertarianism; Mattheus von Guttenberg tries to make the case here. But I have a much simpler response: Gene and Daniel don’t even mention the fact that there are real-life pacifists who not only reject explicit violence but also hatred itself. (If you don’t believe me, skim this story.)

If Gene and Daniel were simply making an empirical claim that in practice, a non-coercive society would break down, that would be one thing. But if you read their posts, it sounds like they are saying far more than that. Indeed, they seem to be saying that by its very nature social life requires coercion.

In order to rebut this view, I will re-post some of my old essays on pacifism.

9 Responses to “Is Coercion Inevitable?”

  1. Louis B. says:

    Do you still consider yourself a Rothbardian?

    • bobmurphy says:

      Yeah. Doesn’t mean I agree with everything he wrote, of course, but he definitely shaped my current views on a lot of this stuff more than any other person. I consider myself a Christian first, libertarian second, but I still consider myself a libertarian of the Rothbardian flavor.

  2. Daniel Kuehn says:

    1. There’s nothing pseudo about me
    2. I don’t swoon

    Now that that’s out of the way – if people are interested in what I’m saying on this, it’s worth clicking the “property” tagline at the end of my post and reading a little more about what I’ve said on that in the past. You come from a natural rights perspective I believe, right Bob? If I thought there were such things as natural rights I think I’d agree that you could probably have a non-coercive society. I see no reason to believe that there are, though.

    The comparison with the Soviets is a little odd, though (although is there a link mix up?). The Soviet guy essentially says “coercion is everywhere – deal with it”. Gene and I are saying “coercion is everywhere – minimize it”. Which is precisely why I also embrace a view of the scientific method that minimizes coercion by emphasizing objectivity, ethics, etc.

    btw – I’m surprised you’re so quick to reject the Soviet view! I hear all the time about how the mainstream is trying to shut out Austrian economics. Seems like that concern jives very well with what that scientist was saying.

    • bobmurphy says:

      I’ve got to run to a soccer game, but one thing: DK I made up that Soviet quote. Did you really think I could find something so perfectly analogous to Gene’s post? (BTW if you got the joke and are just playing deadpan right back at me, good job. But you sound serious.)

      • Daniel Kuehn says:

        I will pretend I got the joke… I was a little confused about the link – should have known something was up 🙂

        but ya – let’s call it deadpan!

  3. Daniel Kuehn says:


    This is an interesting discussion of my post

  4. Bob Roddis says:

    1. It’s interesting to know that as Mises was hiding out in neutral Switzerland in the 1930s, he was employing coercion against the Nazis who wanted to capture and kill him since the Nazis did not respect Mises’ silly and completely arbitrary ideas about private property.

    2. After spotting a picture of a young Tibor Machan in my old Libertarian Review yesterday while looking up the Ralph Raico article on Trotsky,

    http://www.libertarianism.org/lr/LR793.pdf @ p. 21

    old Machan suddenly appears this a.m. on Book TV in an in depth three hour repeat


    3. On page 20 of the same issue of Libertarian Review, Rothbard bemoans the timeless problem of “the space cadet wing”:

    IN MY LAST Plumb Line (February 1979), I wrote of the problem that the space cadet wing of the Libertarian Party poses to the party’s continued growth and development.

    • Blackadder says:

      It’s interesting to know that as Mises was hiding out in neutral Switzerland in the 1930s, he was employing coercion against the Nazis who wanted to capture and kill him

      Mises? No. The Swiss Army? Most certainly.

      • Bob Roddis says:

        I’ll take that argument along with “OOOOH, there’s no inflation!” as another big win for the Rothbardians.

        The other side’s argument usually amounts to scraping the bottom of the long dried-out bottom of a 55 gallon drum.