Sunday, November 12, 2023

Jesse Spafford's "Social Anarchism and the Rejection of Moral Tyranny"

Jesse Spafford is a Lecturer at the Victoria University of Wellington. His work explores debates between libertarians, socialists, and anarchists over the moral status of the market and the state, and he is the author of a number of articles in journals including Philosophical Studies, Synthese, and the Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy.

Spafford applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Social Anarchism and the Rejection of Moral Tyranny, and reported the following:
The text from page 99 of my book is a bit technical, but I will still reproduce it here rather than summarize, as an adequate synopsis that provided all of the relevant context would make this post far too long:
[The non-existence] test has little bearing on the appropriation of external natural resources, as there does not appear to be any case where the costsFC imposed by exclusionary claims would equally obtain in the world where the appropriator never existed. In other words, when it comes to external appropriation, the imposed costsFC – that is, all of the various costsFC discussed in the previous section – still pass the nonexistence test, with the associated acts of appropriation thereby violating the Lockean proviso. Thus, the nonexistence test does not undermine the previous section’s denial that people have acquired or will acquire external property.

By contrast, when it comes to people appropriating their own bodies, the nonexistence test entails that the proviso is necessarily satisfied – at least, if self-appropriation is taken to establish the claims posited by ASO (i.e., claims against any actions that initiate bodily contact without generating unique supplemental benefit). To see why this is the case, consider the scenario where P’s body is unowned (due to her never having previously appropriated it) and Q is in desperate need of a new kidney. Suppose that P then self-appropriates, thereby acquiring a claim against Q that Q not take one of her kidneys. In this case, P’s self-appropriation leaves Q worse offFC relative to the world where P has no such claim: Absent such a claim, a fully compliant Q would have taken one of P’s kidneys, thereby avoiding the pain and suffering of kidney failure (while a fully compliant Q would now suffer these costs given P’s claim against this action). However, as far as the Lockean proviso is concerned, the question is not whether Q is left worse offFC relative to the world where some alternative moral facts obtain. Rather, the question is whether Q is left worse offFC relative to the world where P did not exist – that is, whether the costsFC she incurs pass the nonexistence test. And, notably, these costsFC fail this test, as in the counterfactual world where P never existed, a fully compliant Q would be just as disadvantaged as she would be in the self-appropriation world where she complies with P’s established claims. Specifically, in both worlds, she does not get the kidney and suffers the associated costs. Thus, these costsFC do not count when assessing whether P’s self-appropriation leaves Q worse offFC in a way that would violate the Lockean proviso. This, in turn, implies that the establishment of a claim against kidney harvesting via self- appropriation does not entail a violation of the proviso.
So, does the Page 99 Test work for my book? The answer to this question depends on how the test is interpreted. If the question is whether page 99 is representative of the style of the book, the answer is yes, as the book is similarly technical and argumentation-dense throughout.

If the question is whether the subject matter discussed on the page is representative of the broader book, the answer is a more qualified yes. I answer the question affirmatively because this page presents a crucial move in the argument for one of the main theses of the book: the self-ownership thesis. This thesis holds that each person owns herself in a moral sense—i.e., she has the same rights over her body that she would have over a fully owned thing. Most importantly, this includes rights against other people touching her body, where such rights include rights against assault, organ harvesting, etc. But how do people come to have such self-ownership rights? My suggestion is that people acquire ownership over their own bodies by asserting their self-ownership; however, such acquisition must also satisfy the Lockean proviso referenced in the text: an act of property acquisition succeeds only if no one would be left worse off due to having to comply with the established property rights. Page 99 seeks to establish that acquiring self-ownership would not leave people worse off in this way. Thus, the argument of page 99 is central to establishing this thesis of the book.

This is just a “qualified” yes because the self-ownership thesis is only one of five major theses that compose the anarchist position that I defend. Additionally, I argue that (1) people have no obligation to obey the laws of the state because they have never consented to being governed in this way; (2) the Lockean proviso is an appropriate constraint on the acquisition of private property; (3) that persons lack property rights over any external objects aside from their bodies; and (4) that persons, instead, have egalitarian rights over resources. Finally, I argue that the anarchist position can be entirely derived from what I call the “moral tyranny constraint,” which holds that a moral theory is unacceptable if it allows people to discretionarily leave others worse off. Given that page 99 is only advancing a defense of the self-ownership thesis and not these other theses, it provides only a limited window into what the book argues.

Finally, if the question is whether the reader would be able to grasp the argument of the book just by reading page 99, the answer is probably no. The page employs numerous technical terms that have been defined earlier in the book. Without this context, the reader will likely find it difficult to understand the argument presented on page 99.
Visit Jesse Spafford's website.

--Marshal Zeringue