“An Unjust Law Is Not a Law”

According to Augustine, Aquinas, and Martin Luther King, Jr., an unjust law is no law at all. I’ll call this thesis ULNL, relying more on Aquinas’s version of it than Augustine’s or MLK’s. ULNL is, famously or notoriously, a staple of natural law theorizing. Though sympathetic to what he calls “the minimal content of natural law,” H.L.A. Hart takes issue with ULNL in The Concept of Law on both theoretical and deliberative grounds. Continue reading

Halal Hart

I’m about to run another crazy H.L.A. Hart-inspired idea by you. It runs along the same lines as my last post, so let me just quote the first few paragraphs of that post as a preface to the thought itself:

According to H.L.A. Hart, law is a union of primary and secondary rules. A rule is a codified directive to someone. Primary rules are primary because they give directives directly to, or impose obligations directly on, those governed by the rule. Secondary rules are rules about the primary ones, specifying “the ways in which the primary rules may be conclusively ascertained, introduced, eliminated, varied, and the fact of their violation conclusively determined” (Hart, Concept of Law,  p. 94). Among the secondary rules is a “rule of recognition,” which specifies “some feature or features possession of which by a suggested rule is taken as a conclusive affirmative indication that it is a rule of the group to be supported by the social pressure it exerts” (Hart, Concept of Law, p. 94).

The rules of recognition are both ultimate and supreme with respect to a legal system. They’re ultimate in the sense that they (collectively) provide the most fundamental criterion for determining the validity of any given rule within the system. They’re supreme in the sense that they override any competing norms apparently eligible for validity within the system. On Hart’s view, it’s a necessary and sufficient condition of law that within any putative legal system, the primary and secondary rules so conceived are generally obeyed by those governed by them, and the rules of recognition are “effectively accepted as common public standards of official behaviour” by the officials in charge of the system (Hart, Concept of Law, p. 116).

Continue reading

Groundwork Books!

Continuing the San Diego bookstores series, I chat with Jack Ran of the Groundwork Book Collective, a radical left-wing bookstore on the campus of UCSD. Topics include running a bookstore as an egalitarian collective; participating in wildcat strikes; surviving arson attacks; the dynamics of anarchist/Marxist cooperation; conflicts with the university administration; what campus leftists owe to Donald Trump; and the joys of reading Proudhon, Kevin Carson, and Shawn Wilbur.

If I seem a little sleepy during the video, it’s because I’d gotten very little sleep the night before. I blame capitalism.

The Long Arm of the Law Merchant

In my latest Agoric Café video, I chat with economist Bruce L. Benson about polycentric mercantile law in medieval Europe and among the Plains Indians; whether private law can work outside of small homogeneous communities; causation vs. correlation in the gun control debate; the perils of scissors-and-paste history; the abolition of criminal law; the incentival perversities of the reservation system; the inevitability of the state; and what intellectual debt he owes to the u.s. military.

Tomfoolery in the Overhead Compartment

The Agoric Cafe is serving once again!

In my latest video, I chat with globetrotting, gunslinging, contraband-smuggling libertarian scholar Tom G. Palmer on the legitimacy of self-defense; the militarisation of police; prison abolitionism; the wars on drugs, guns, and gays; the economics and ethics of bounty hunting; the French liberal demystification of the state; lawlessness vs. anarchy; the perversities of the FDA and CDC; Afghan libertarianism; hatred as a treacherous muse; how to sneak a photocopy machine into the Soviet bloc; and the height of the sky.

Adventures in Space and Time

Three Agoric Café videos this week! What have you done to deserve such a superfluity of Agoric content? Nothing good, I’ll warrant.

In the main event, I chat with economist and legal scholar David Friedman on free-market anarchism; the Society for Creative Anachronism; tectonic geology; the quasi-anarchic legal systems of medieval Iceland and 18th-century England; being converted to anarchism by Robert Heinlein; how getting a Ph.D. in physics led to being an economist at a law school; the joys of fomenting war and exploiting one’s students; how he repeatedly achieved promotion through violence against his predecessors; how to make medieval armor both for humans and for turnips; how innovations in fireplace design facilitated adultery; and the perils of central planning for wizards.

The Friedman interview is bookended by two other videos of lesser import – this one, in which I show you around my childhood neighbourhood in San Diego (Sunset Cliffs and Ocean Beach, in Point Loma):

and finally this one, in which I share a special message for the New Year:

Meanwhile, in a Parallel Election

I voted!

No, not in the u.s. election – Ἀθηνᾶ κρείττων!

Nah, I voted for which book we will read next in the Auburn Science Fiction and Philosophy Reading Group.

This was a more cheerful and civilised affair than the u.s. election in at least seven ways:

1. Minority choices have no trouble getting on the ballot; any individual member of the group can nominate a book (or several), without having to collect multiple signatures on a petition.

2. The number of participants is small enough that any individual vote has an actual chance of making a decisive difference to the outcome.

3. Voting involves rank-ordering the candidates via an online Condorcet poll, so no one has to choose between voting for their favourite among the front runners and voting for their favourite absolutely.

4. We choose a new book every month or two, so there’s strict rotation in office with very short terms – no perpetually incumbent books.

5. The reading group is a purely voluntary association. If any members aren’t happy with the winning choice, and want to go off on their own to read and discuss a different book, the rest of us wouldn’t dream of trying to stop them, let alone telling them that by voting (or by not voting) they have committed themselves to reading the winning book.

6. All the books nominated look worthwhile, and I would be happy to read and discuss any of them.

7. Facebook has not been reminding me every few minutes to vote for the next book.

O idéal lointain!