Ryan Research Newsletter


But Who Tho? — A Reply to “The Consent of the Governed” by Paul Sztorc

In his essay “The Consent of the Governed”, Sztorc indicates the primary problem of governance is consent measurement. This is a valid issue that not only governments (institutions that exert a monopoly of aggressive force) but any institution that allocates resources. Both types of institutions have scarce resources and need the best technologies to allocate them. Governance technologies have emerged throughout civilization that tinker with the distribution and impact of information gatherers and executors. The tribal god-king of the ancients was the extreme hyperbole of both functions distributed into one person while the 20th-century theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat was the extreme of both functions distributed into every person. Western-style liberal democracies might be seen as a happy middle ground where the distribution is optimal and the functions are separated (Executive Branch & Legislative Branch).

Executors can only execute with information from the information gatherers. The essential aspect that Sztorc correctly identifies is that information is hard to gather. If those providing it are incentivized to give inaccurate information (for example through the threat of violence) then those governing receive sub-optimal information. Thus it behooves those that govern to not only pay the cost of information gathering but also consent measurement.

Sztorc goes onto to reveal that anarchist society will crumble under the weight of measuring consent as every norm, rule, or law will need to be personally consented by each individual. Non-anarchist societies succeeded where the former fails by accepting “imperfect consent measurement” and deferring to experts. According to Sztorc, it appears that improving the consent measurement of information sources (non-experts) to information gatherers (experts) will improve the results of governance executors.

While this position is very tenable, Sztorc runs into some imprecise analysis of anarchism and statism. Under his own definition of anarchism, “as the complete lack of any culturally-enforced [consent measurement]”, he certainly debunks it. However, more communal definitions of anarchism disrupt the debunk.

Anarchism, in general, is defined as the absence of an institution that exerts an aggressive force on individuals. The popular NAP, Non-Aggression Principle, is an idea that captures this essence. Nothing about this definition would lead an anarchist to disagree with any conclusions that Sztorc illuminates about consent measurement.

Anarchists might indeed agree that imperfect consent measurement exists and that specialization will need to occur resulting in the formation of experts and non-experts. This is Adam Smith free-market economics at its best! However, they would disagree on who decides? This brings us to the crux of the critique.

Perhaps it is better to now bifurcate into my own definitions of anarchism. Anarcho-Capitalists are hierarchal and Cultural-Anarchists are egalitarian. The former understand that inequality is inherent in nature that continues through societal functioning and thus in agreement with Sztorc, while the latter believes in uniform equality that is antithetical to specialization and thus in disagreement with Sztorc. The former would be the authoritarian CEO of his factory while the latter would call for the said factory to be run by the workers.

Considering this discussion was prompted by a refutation of Murray Rothbard’s ideas, who some would call the founding father of Anarcho-Capitalism, it seems appropriate to iron-man the debate on this version of anarchism opposed to the other.

An AnCap society would function with imperfect consent measuring as similar examples of private property dynamics operate today. When you enter a residence, you tacitly agree to the subjective whim of the private property owner. You may not have consented to eviction from the residence for a snide joke about the property owner’s wife (a cultural norm) but it is well within the right of the property owner to evict you. Now you might ask: “How do we stop the property owner from inflicting harsh and unusual punishment upon the accused based on subjective reasoning of the transgression?” The property owner is nested within a larger community and that community has parameters for what is acceptable for smaller property owners within it to do. We can logically conclude that interactions on an individual level are nested in distinct, overlapping, subordinate, and supreme governance institutions….and here’s the kicker…they can all still be non-aggressive and comply with Anarcho-Capitalism.

The hierarchy of Anarcho-Capitalism enables specialization of governance and the application of defensive force to enable voluntary trade. This dismisses Sztorc’s two main criticisms concerning consent measuring technology: anarchists will let small tyrants fester into large ones through myopic individualism or anarchists stigmatizing “gossip” of tyrants can’t scale. The first criticism can be tackled by the moderation of non-property owners within the realm of the property owners. The second criticism falsely limits the anarchist society to just gossip while defensive force is fully justified. If gossip is indeed limited to some Dunbar Number and only the exertion of force is capable of scaling, then it is not inconceivable for defensive force to be utilized by a market of governance executors and information gatherers.

In the introduction of Sztorc’s essay, he states “consent is information” in which I agree. Sztorc suggests that institutions that exert a monopoly of aggressive force will be best while an Anarcho-Capitalist would suggest that institutions that voluntarily engage in trade will be preferable. Both would agree that consent measurement technology should be improved. I’ll conclude with a passage from Hayek’s “The Use of Knowledge in Society”: