The Argument From Disagreement Deepened

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In an earlier article, I introduced the argument from disagreement, "that the State and government are not and cannot be logically justified or defended as long as there are those under their rule who disagree with their (aggressive) impositions." Hoppe argued in his argumentation ethics that whenever anyone argued for anything, he presumed the property rights of his opponent. If a person argued for the State and against property rights, he was then in contradiction. I went further in the argument from disagreement. I concluded that socialists and statists have no valid or logical arguments in support of coercive measures or a State.

This article revisits the argument. I deepen it to show its roots and how it is linked to the issue of invalid interpersonal utility comparisons. I wish to show that the argument for disagreement belongs in the class of undeniable statements; that is, it’s a praxeological certitude based in the logic of human action. I generalize it to conclude that there are no valid arguments for the imposition of aggressive force. I also provide an example of what the argument implies in a situation such as the acceptance of something like a Constitution.

The argument as applied to a Constitution

Suppose person A argues against a State policy P while person S supports P. That implies that S supports the State itself and also the State’s imposition of P. Person A does not support either the policy or its imposition.

Person S cannot, without contradiction, defend P or argue for P (which means justify it without coercion) and simultaneously approve of the coercion involved in imposing P. If he approves coercion, why argue? Why try to persuade A of something that A does not accept if the intent is to force it on A anyway? If he is truly arguing, he can only be arguing that person A voluntarily accept P as a policy. But he isn’t. He’s arguing that the State impose P. This is why arguing (which means arguing with someone who disagrees with it) for any socialist policy is indefensible. Person S is really saying that no matter what person A believes or argues, power or might is a necessity. This of course is not an argument.

As an example, consider the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. It was preceded by much argumentation. The idea was that a group adopt a coercive proposal that would bind the members of the group. The group needed a valid rule of adoption, however, in order even to decide what would validate adoption. Any procedure at all only has validity if all of the group members agree to be bound by such a rule. There must logically be a starting point at which majority rule, for example, becomes an acceptable rule. Majority rule can’t be decided by majority rule ab initio. That assumes majority rule is already in place. Majority rule must be decided by unanimous consent at the outset before it can be accepted and used. Thus, if all had agreed to be bound by majority rule, a minority who disagreed with the new Constitution would have no complaint if the Constitution received 51 percent approval. On the other hand, if all had not agreed to such an adoption rule (majority rule), then the argumentation over whether or not a Constitution should be established that provided rules binding on everyone was senseless or illogical because a subgroup had the intention of imposing it on those who disagreed with it whether they agreed to it or not.

Parenthetically, I venture the (safe) guess that no historian has ever shown that the American people, slaves included, agreed to majority rule as a vehicle for deciding on the U.S. Constitution. This is a Spoonerian-flavored observation. It is implicit in his saying that "…the act of voting could bind nobody but the actual voters," but I think it needs to be spelled out that even a vote does not bind voters unless they have earlier agreed to be bound by a counting rule such as majority rule.

Relation to interpersonal utility comparisons

Let us return to S and A. S (implicitly) favors force to impose his proposal. If A disagrees with him on the proposal, which he does because they are arguing, then S is at one instant trying to non-coercively justify to A that the State’s policy is beneficial while at the same time supporting State force to implement the policy. The latter support means that he really does not care what A thinks. His argumentation, which is non-coercive justification, doesn’t square with what he’s supporting, which is a coercive measure.

For example, S argues with A who is red-headed that all red-heads should pay a 90% income tax. A disagrees. He rejects the idea. S insists that the State should do this for whatever reason, say that it will save 1 million lives. He’s trying to argue that A hurt himself for a “good” cause, and A says “No, I do not accept this.” At that point, when A disagrees with S’s proposal, S has no logical way of justifying the State forcing A to pay the tax that does not involve invoking the values of other people than A. This, I suggest, is a praxeological truth. S can’t tell A "It’s for your own good," because A already says that it is not for his own good. And if S does say this, it brings in S’s valuation of what A values. S can’t tell A that it’s for the good of society without bringing in the values of others. If S argues for society’s benefit, he is comparing A’s disutility with the utility of others. But it is well known that S has no way to measure or prove his statements about the utility of others. If S can only justify the State by bringing in the values of others, and if such comparisons are invalid, then S has no valid way of justifying the State to A.

Can anyone logically argue for or defend the use of force by the State? Hobbes did, and so have many others. But did their use of argumentation make sense in the face of those who disagree and reject the State? My answer is "No, all such arguments are invalid."

How might S have valid arguments for a tax or a State? He might say to A that he should voluntarily accept the tax or the State. But a voluntary tax is not a tax, and accepting "coercion" makes it into non-coercion. These transform payments and rules into goods. So this case is trivial.

When A disagrees with force being imposed on him, there is no argument that can persuade A that does not involve an invalid interpersonal utility comparison. This suggests that we can generalize the argument from disagreement and assert: There is never a valid argument for imposing (aggressive) force on third parties who have no say in the matter. The imposition of force must lower their utility, or else force is not required. They are being made to act in ways they would not voluntarily or freely select. This can’t be justified except by appeal to some greater good which has to involve the valuations of others. This has to involve invalid interpersonal utility comparisons.


Socialists and statists who argue for force actually have no valid arguments to use on those of us who disagree and they have no valid arguments for imposing force on those who have no say in the matter. They have no valid arguments at all. There are no valid arguments for the imposition of (aggressive) force. The statist position is exposed as one of brute force.

Those who believe in free markets and their opponents, the socialists, do not compose a group of reasonable people who somehow agree in the end to have a State or a variety of coercive measures. There is a gulf that can’t be bridged by argumentation. In reaching this conclusion, I presume that individuals know their own minds best and know best what is or is not good for them. And when they reject impositions and force being used on them, they are choosing their best courses of action. This presumption is, in my view, a praxeological certitude, that is, a statement that can’t be denied. When people choose freely, we cannot interpret their acts in any other way than that they prefer what they choose. On the other hand, socialists and statists do not know what’s good for freely choosing people in a better way than the free people do that allows them to impose measures on others. If socialists really do know what’s good for others, then others can and will voluntarily act on the socialists’ suggestions. If they do not so act, then the implication is that the socialists are not proffering suggestions that others prefer. Force, then, is not justified.

While socialists have no valid way to argue for the State, freedom-lovers can logically argue against it. And they can continue to justify their opposition to all coercive measures of States and States themselves.

Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is the Louis M. Jacobs Professor of Finance at University at Buffalo.

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