They are lighting their Arrow’s theorem

October 24, 2016 § 72 Comments

Critics of democracy sometimes point to Arrow’s Theorem as demonstration that it is rationally impossible in principle for any kind of democratic process to produce good political results.  That isn’t precisely correct: what Arrow’s theorem demonstrates isn’t that democracy cannot produce good results.  What it demonstrates is that democracy cannot produce results that anybody wants: Arrow’s theorem pertains to the achievement and ranking of preferences, not the achievement and ranking of objective goods.

One of the superficial objections that comes up from time to time is that in our elections we do not rank and choose policies: we rank and choose representatives.  But it does not follow that therefore Arrow’s theorem does not apply.  What follows is that no democratic process can successfully select representatives that we prefer from the available choices.

Reality seems to agree with Arrow’s theorem, if you observe the representatives we actually get.  Whether or not some technical objections to the application of Arrow’s theorem obtain here and there, the overwhelming empirical confirmation is difficult to deny.

§ 72 Responses to They are lighting their Arrow’s theorem

  • Tom says:

    In fact, given fallen human nature, a process that never produces what anybody wants should sometimes acidentally produce an objective good!

  • Zippy says:

    Tom:

    Maybe we can do at least as well as dart throwing monkeys.

  • Tom says:

    That reminds me, if one thinks that the available spectrum of political candidates is in the lower 50% of the country (morally, wisdom, etc), then voting is clearly a less-rational process than random selection of a citizen. And if liberalism leads to a hallowed system that is clearly worse than no system at all ….

  • Zippy says:

    Tom:

    To be fair, it isn’t that dart throwing monkeys are literally no system at all. You do need monkeys, darts, and phone books.

    They are just a provably better system than democracy.

  • Tom says:

    Votes out for Harambe?

  • King Richard says:

    Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem shows that voting is irrational. The Sorites Paradox also shows that the results of an election are too “remote” to justify voting for a candidate who has any moral or legal issues.

  • Zippy says:

    King Richard:

    But liberal democracy represents the banishment of ignorance and the triumph of enlightened reason in the domain of politics.

    /sarc

  • Mike T says:

    Was your post inspired by the latest post at W4 and the comments on it about Arrow’s Theorem?

    One thing that stands out to me about this election is that for the first time in our history we have the choice to choose someone who is not only a criminal, but a serial and unrepentant criminal who fully intends to use the office for criminality. For people who constantly claim that the rule of law is being undermined, allowing the election of someone who is the pinnacle of criminality in the elites seems to be the height of irrationality, police preferences aside.

  • Zippy says:

    I can understand folks not grasping the math and its pertinence. But who can deny the empirical evidence? It is like Newton’s freaking apple.

  • Tom says:

    Mike T – I think one of the more useful questions to ask these days is not “Why X?” but “Why does God permit X?” – and I think this election is just God permitting us to do what we say will work, while making it extremely obvious that it isn’t working. Or another example, perhaps we’re discrediting ultramontanism by practicing it; the Mercy of God that is sometimes the harshest Judgement.

  • Aethelfrith says:

    For people who constantly claim that the rule of law is being undermined, allowing the election of someone who is the pinnacle of criminality in the elites seems to be the height of irrationality, police preferences aside.

    Or, people are just letting their prior commitments influence reality. I have a feeling this is a well-covered topic in this blog….

  • Mike T says:

    Don’t read too much into that comment. It was mostly just a musing about how even though the folks at W4 frequently go off about the rule of law, they are content to ignore the fact that Clinton personifies everything they despise in actual policy whereas Trump is mainly what they despise in style and personal conduct.

  • Mike T says:

    Or, people are just letting their prior commitments influence reality.

    Only a fool looks at Clinton and sees just another liberal. Even most of the liberals I know want to see her in prison.

  • Martin T says:

    Arrow’s Theorem : Nope. Don’t get it. If you feel like explaining in a post go ahead.

  • Zippy says:

    Martin T:

    From the first link in the OP:

    Say there are some alternatives to choose among [e.g. on a ballot – Z]. They could be policies, public projects, candidates in an election, distributions of income and labour requirements among the members of a society, or just about anything else. There are some people whose preferences will inform this choice [e.g voters – Z], and the question is: which procedures are there for deriving, from what is known or can be found out about their preferences [e.g. by voting – Z], a collective or “social” ordering of the alternatives from better to worse? The answer is startling. Arrow’s theorem says there are no such procedures whatsoever …

  • Josh says:

    alright, lets see if I can remember this from undergrad. You want to rank, say five candidates according to the preferences of the readership of zippy catholic. You want to come up with a system that will take our individual preferences and spit out a ranking of group preference that satisfies some fairy basic intuitive conditions. 1) non-dictatorial, more than one of our preferences count in the rankings. There can be no individual whose decision always determines the rankings. 2) ranking is Pareto-optimal, if everyone prefers candidate a to candidate b the our group ranking must put him ahead. 3) Independence of irrelevant alternatives, if candidate c is caught with a dead girl or a live boy that should not effect whether a is preceded to b.

    There is no mechistic method of preference aggregation that can guarantee these three criteria.

  • GJ says:

    Mike T:

    It was mostly just a musing about how even though the folks at W4 frequently go off about the rule of law, they are content to ignore the fact that Clinton personifies everything they despise in actual policy whereas Trump is mainly what they despise in style and personal conduct.

    The quadrennial popularity contest remains a popularity contest. Surprise!

  • Mike T,

    You get the typical “Excuse me, I find Hilary JUST AS BAD!!!!11!!1!” smokescreen where we all need to ignore that 90+% of what’s written is all about what a terrible person Trump is.

    One thing you can say about Zippy: He’s equal opportunity anti-liberal.

  • King Richard says:

    I had not returned to W4 some time; it is always amusing how often you see a variation of ‘I don’t really understand this, but let me tell you how it is wrong’ on that site!

    Some time ago I prepared a presentation explaining the various… issues… associated with political voting. Perhaps I should turn it into a webinar. A summary of the first portion is, roughly, that the majority of ideas we hold about voting are either irrational or false.

    -“I am not voting for candidate A, I am voting *against* candidate B”
    False; voting is objectively the personal endorsement of the candidate for whom you cast a ballot.

    -“Candidate B is an immoral person who supports immoral concepts and champions immoral activities and if elected will use their power to enforce immoral laws. But I find candidate A *more* repugnant, so by voting for B I oppose oppose a worse evil”
    False; voting is objectively the personal endorsement of the candidate for whom you cast a ballot. Also, material cooperation with evil is wrong.

    -“Candidate B is an immoral person who supports immoral concepts and champions immoral activities and if elected will use their power to enforce immoral laws. But candidate B also opposes a law I find *very* repugnant. My vote for candidate B is really a vote against that abhorrent law”
    False; the Sorites Paradox demonstrates that the act of voting is morally proximate to the candidate you vote for (and the system in which voting occurs!) but morally distant from the outcome of voting and essentially very morally distant from and legislation which results from an election.

    -“Voting reveals the will of the people; an election gives a mandate to those elected.”
    False; Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem demonstrates that it is impossible to know the actual preferences of voters based upon the outcome of voting *or most polling*. A general election can never be said to have demonstrated anything but ‘one candidates appears to have received more ballots’

    “The election system, with debates, position papers, interviews, etc., allows people to decide which candidate is best.”
    False; decades of research in multiple disciplines concurs – large-scale political voting is an irrational act. No single person is capable of having the information needed to vote rationally. As a result, large-scale voting is based upon emotions and ‘bandwagoning’ and in herently irrational voting decisions.

  • Zippy says:

    King Richard:

    Two observations.

    Voting is irrational when viewed as a preference ranking system, but it is not irrational when viewed as a means to get a large swath of the public to personally endorse the ruling class and ideology in a ritual act.

    Adding to the point about material cooperation with evil, it is always immoral to materially cooperate with evil absent proportionate reason under the principle of double effect. The proportionate reasons that people propose always depend on comparison of outcomes; but given the negligible influence any of us have over outcomes, differences in outcomes cannot constitute proportionate reason. And the idea that this isn’t the case because voting is a group effort is subject to the Iron Law:

    https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/the-iron-law-of-electoral-influence/

  • […] in mass market democratic elections is not rational if it is viewed as a procedure by which we rank public preferences and choose candidates according to that […]

  • vishmehr24 says:

    King Richard,
    For a supposed reactionary, you do take a lot of sustence and comfort from word-games that pass for philosophy.
    Sorites paradox-when is a heap not a heap?
    Ans: a heap means it is not a substance, It does not have identity the same way as a substance.
    And as for your Arrow’s theorem-it is also overstated. For one thing, winner-take elections are not rank-ordering so the theorem does not apply.

  • King Richard says:

    vishmehr24,
    You wrote,
    “For a supposed reactionary…”
    I am at a loss. I have never described myself as a reactionary nor do I recall anyone referring to me as such until now.
    You continued,
    “…you do take a lot of sustence [sic] and comfort from word-games that pass for philosophy.”
    I do not recall referring to my mental state concerning the Sorites Paradox and you should ask me what I think rather than try to guess otherwise, like now, you will probably be wrong.
    Your description of the Sorites Paradox proves nothing more than the fact that you do not understand it. The Sorites Paradox is a demonstration of the indeterminacy surrounding limits of application of a predicate to leading to paradoxical reasoning in a derivative sense, or;
    If the parameters of a process are indeterminate then the moral results of that process are remote while the moral implications of the process itself remain proximate.
    As for whether or not the Sorites Paradox is ‘philosophy’ or not, I direct you to:
    Hyde, D., 2011. ‘The sorites paradox’ in G. Ronzitti (ed.), Vagueness: a guide, Dordrecht, New York: Springer, pp. 1–18.
    Priest, G., 1991. ‘Sorites and identity’, Logique et Analyse, 34: 293–296.
    Sainsbury, M. and Williamson, T., 1995. ‘Sorites’ in B. Hale and C. Wright (eds), Blackwell Companion to the Philosophy of Language, Oxford: Blackwell.
    Weber, Z. and Colyvan, M., 2010. ‘A topological sorites’, The Journal of Philosophy, 107: 311–325.
    Burgess, J., 2001. ‘Vagueness, epistemicism, and response-dependence’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 79: 507–24.
    Lewis, D., 1993. ‘Many but almost one’, in K. Campbell, J. Bacon and L. Reinhardt (eds.), Ontology, Causality, and Mind: Essays on the Philosophy of D. M. Armstrong, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 23–38.
    McGee, V. and McLaughlin, B., 2000. ‘The lessons of the many’, Philosophical Topics, 28: 129–51.
    Morreau, M., 2002. ‘What vague objects are like’, Journal of Philosophy, 99: 333–61.
    Pelletier, J. and Stainton, R., 2003. ‘On “the denial of bivalence is absurd”’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 81: 369–82.
    Weatherson, B., 2003. ‘Epistemicism, parasites, and vague names’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 81: 276–79.
    Williamson, T., 1994. Vagueness, London: Routledge.
    I can provide more references when you have completed these.

    Since the tone of your post up to that post seems chiding, please be aware – I do not feel upbraided.

    You then wrote,
    “And as for your Arrow’s theorem…”
    It is not mine, it is Kenneth Arrow’s.
    You went one,
    “…winner-take elections are not rank-ordering so the theorem does not apply.”
    Once more, you are only demonstrating that you do not grasp the theorem. While there are some selection processes that do not fall within Arrow’s Theorem, the winner-take-all system of the US is not one of them.
    Note: if you scanned Wikipedia to learn about the theorem be aware that their entry on ‘majority voting’ does not refer to winner take all voting.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    King Richard,
    I apologize for the mistake. I did think you self-describe as a reactionary along with the most people here. It is not meant as a pejorative, I regard myself as a sympathizer. I am more of a tradiotnalist-preferring a republic in lands with republican tradition and monarchy where it is tradtional .

    I do not understand high philosophy or high maths. I do not understand how indeterminancy in the definition of a heap implies we must not vote.
    I do not understand what “morally proximate to the candidate you vote for” means,

    Liberalism is about rule by experts. So, is it not in the spirit of liberalism that our decisions about things such as voting be determined by the theorems and paradoxes that are apparently impossible to put into a language ordinary people can understand?

  • King Richard says:

    vishmehr24,
    You wrote,
    “I do not understand how indeterminancy in the definition of a heap implies we must not vote.”
    By itself? it doesn’t. I t means you cannot justify participating in a morally questionable indeterminate process of the desire or belief the results of the process might be positive.
    Here is an analogy.
    Let’s say there is a very complicated machine in a large building, The machine has millions of levers and they can each be set to 5 different positions. Once a year the doors are unlocked and citizens are encouraged to flip one of the levers into their preferred position. If enough people put enough levers into position 1 the citizens might receive a reduction in taxes. If enough people flip levers to position 3 then there is a chance that abortion will be less common. Etc.
    At the same time, though, the machine itself is a horrible contraption. It costs billions of dollars to repair and operate; it uses up 80% of the electricity of the town, reducing opportunities for growth. And ever time you flip a lever it costs more more, takes more electricity, and when you flip the lever a nun is punched in the face.
    What the Sorites Paradox shows us is this
    -If we go in and flip a lever we are somewhat morally culpable for the costs and electricity usage and directly culpable for the nun being punched *and* the possible results of the lever being flipped don’t mitigate our culpability.
    Does that make more sense?

  • vishmehr24 says:

    King Richard,
    “when you flip the lever a nun is punched in the face.”
    Why this curious stipulation? Does the point not work without it?

  • King Richard says:

    vishmehr24,
    For the more visceral reaction, mainly.

  • Zippy says:

    King Richard:
    There is probably a name for this dynamic, but I don’t offhand know what it is.

    Speaker A puts certain features into an analogy or example as a way to try to help Speaker B grasp a concept intuitively, viscerally.

    Speaker B attacks that very feature of the analogy/example as a way of rejecting it qua analogy, and continues to fail to grasp the concept that the analogy or example attempts to communicate.

    Some commenters simply aren’t interested in grappling with certain concepts. Their goal is to invalidate, not understand or discuss. Most commenters here aren’t like that — my fingernails-on-chalkboard rhetorical style keeps them away, for the most part.

    But this is the Internet, so unless I were to follow Bruce Charlton’s advice and censor comments much more ruthlessly, there are always going to be some who want to not understand.

  • Scott W. says:

    There is probably a name for this dynamic, but I don’t offhand know what it is.

    Crimestop? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thoughtcrime#Crimestop

  • Zippy says:

    Scott W:

    That isn’t quite what I am getting at. Perhaps what I am describing is a specific crimestop technique — a specific defense against crimethought contained in an analogy.

    Basically, KR included the ‘a nun is punched in the face’ bit into his story to appeal viscerally to intuition: it is like highlighting the negative aspect of the act with a highlighter to try to better communicate the concept.

    But then the fact that that specific aspect is rhetorically highlighted in the analogy becomes the reason – on the part of a hostile reader – to stop thinking about it. The highlighter becomes the mind’s interior redaction blackout pen, and the concept is lost.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    Zippy,
    Hostile reader?
    Critical reader might be a more non-hostile way of putting things.
    This nun-punching is very loaded way of arguing. I hope I can get the point without visceral reactions interfaring.
    It is very disorientating change from theorems in high maths to arousal of visceral reactions. One should be pardoned for being confused and slow to get the point.

  • Zippy says:

    vishmehr24:
    The difference between a hostile reader and a critical reader is that the critical reader demonstrates that he actually understands what he is criticizing.

  • King Richard says:

    vishmehr24, I began including the bit about punching a nun in the face for two reasons;
    1) When I spoke of ‘unjustifiable wars continuing’ and ‘policies that oppose life’ many people were quite ho-hum. Even a discussion of corruption was met with shrugs.
    2) When I do mention punching nuns an interesting subset of people talks about nothing else thereafter.

  • Tom says:

    Reminds me of the old joke: “We’re going to abort 40 million babies and punch a nun.” “Why punch a nun?” “See, nobody cares about the babies!”

  • vishmehr24 says:

    King Richard,
    Then your argument begs the question itself. Many people that vote oppose abortion and hope to use their vote to end abortion politically.
    I disagree myself. I would not vote, but not for esoteric theorems or paradoxes but for the simple reason that voting when one of the proposition being presented is unacceptable to me–would legitimize the process and I would then be morally obliged to accept the unacceptable proposition (in case it wins the electoral lottery).

    This is slightly different from Zippy’s position. He is against liberalism as a whole and I am only against unacceptable propositions. To be against liberalism as a whole seems rather vague and diffused, particularly so, when we are not given any instance of a non-liberal state which might be acceptable to Zippy. Thus, we have Ibsen’s problem as Chesterton saw it-a clear idea of the evil without a clear idea of the good.

  • Zippy says:

    vishmehr24:
    Two observations.

    First, your agreement that voting at all legitimizes whatever outcome results, and therefore is unacceptable unless all of the options on the ballot are acceptable, is a good step. It has aways been my position that, although some of these mathematical theorems do demonstrate how deeply epistemically irrational certain views are, one need not be a mathematician to see the irrationality of (e.g.) voting.

    Second, the notion that an actual abomination may not be condemned unless an acceptable fictional story about a better way to accomplish some goal is on offer, is simply moral consequentialism. E.g. the Hiroshima bombing is presumptively licit unless you can tell me a story I find believable about a better way to win the war.

    Moral consequentialism is related to epistemic positivism, which also seems to give you some trouble in these comboxes. And invoking (your interpretation, but we can stipulate accuracy in an attempt at fairness both to you and those you cited ) mistakes made by venerated names doesn’t make those mistakes any less mistaken.

  • King Richard says:

    vishmehr24,
    You wrote,
    “Then your argument begs the question itself”
    I do not understand this statement; please expand on your meaning.
    You wrote,
    ” Many people that vote oppose abortion and hope to use their vote to end abortion politically.”
    This is obviously true. But even if their vote ended abortion the Sorites Paradox means that the outcome does not justify their endorsement of either a bad person or a corrupt system.
    You wrote,
    “To be against liberalism as a whole seems rather vague and diffused…”
    So is to be against sin.
    You continued,
    “…we are not given any instance of a non-liberal state which might be acceptable to Zippy”
    Zippy contra mundum?
    Perhaps you should consider the Kingdom of Edan?

  • Tom says:

    It is possible that the Vatican City State might be a non-liberal state acceptable to Zippy.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    Zippy,
    “the notion that an actual abomination may not be condemned unless an acceptable fictional story about a better way to accomplish some goal is on offer,”

    I do not see how I ever voiced or implied such a thing.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    King Richard,
    “Perhaps you should consider the Kingdom of Edan?”
    Your offer is tempting indeed. But I am afraid
    “a peaceful way of acquiring sovereign territory.”
    is impossible even in theory. The idea suffers from a kind of rationalism that all problems are rationally solvable. However, sovereignity essentially rests on a brute force self-assertion.

  • King Richard says:

    vishmehr24,
    You wrote,
    ““a peaceful way of acquiring sovereign territory.”
    is impossible even in theory. …sovereignity [sic] essentially rests on a brute force self-assertion.”
    I am struggling with how to respond to this in a manner that does not seem to be mocking.
    Prescription; occupation of terra nullus; non-violent de facto rule leading to admission of transfer; cession. Assuming you are at least as old as the Crown Prince you have lived through multiple instances of a transfer of sovereignty over territory that did not involve any manner of brute force, of with a weaker part gaining sovereignty from a stronger.
    Mao was wrong, BTW.

  • Zippy says:

    KR:
    vishmehr24 has strong commitments to this idea that authority (or at least sovereignty) can only derive from brute force as opposed to nature. It reminds me of feminists like Susan Faludi who see the child inside her mother as, categorically, an aggressor.

    Heck, even brute force doesn’t derive from brute force, to repeat a point from other threads. Try going on a (hypothetical) shooting spree to see what I mean.

    Political power (the capacity to make things happen) may or may not in particular cases flow from legitimate authority (moral right to command and be obeyed); but it never comes from brute force. Power always comes from subjects treating commands as authoritative.

  • notruecatholic says:

    For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

    Matthew 8:9

    Sound fitting

  • Tom says:

    Political power derives from the consent of the governed, not authority (which is why the Article 21 of the UN’s 1948 Declaration of Human Rights is evil: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government”).

  • Zippy says:

    Tom:

    I’d modify to ‘political power derives from the obedience of the governed’. And I’ll emphasize your point that authority and obedience are distinct: when a subject who ought to obey does not, he does evil and ought to face punishment. A legitimate political authority can lack power because of disobedient and punishment-worthy subjects.

    And of course this is not at all a uniform or ‘equal’ thing: the obedience of the military is more important (in terms of power) than the obedience of Women’s Studies departments, majors, and graduates; the obedience of men is more important than women; etc.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    1) Sovereignity isn’t another word for authority. And neither is ownership. Zippy needs to make finer distinctions.
    2) Sovereignity is self-assertion of a people over a particular piece of land and ultimatately rests on brute force.
    a) The point is not about inner relation of a sovereign to his people but outer relation of a sovereign with another sovereign.
    b) In short, unless you have land (and not as an owner), you are not much of a sovereign.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    King Richard,
    Now I see why my point re: “a peaceful way of acquiring sovereign territory.”
    was entirely misunderstood. To me, the sovereign is never a person but the nation. This may indeed be a key diference between us.
    Hence, I was not talking of the ruler-ruled relation.
    That some territories change possession peacefully between two sovereigns does not change the essential point that territorial possession rests on brute force. For there is no logic why Konigsberg belongs to Russia.
    Terra nullus–would still need to be secured by force. See islands in south china sea. Among sovereigns, it is always might makes right.

  • Zippy says:

    If we define sovereignty to be dominion-over-land just to please vishmehr24 (even though there is much more to it than that), it still is not the case that this “rests on” brute force in some profound sense. The fact that dominion over territory is defended by force does not make it reducible to force.

  • King Richard says:

    vishmehr24.
    You wrote,
    “Sovereignity [sic] isn’t another word for authority”
    This is incorrect. Sovereignty is ‘that authority which answers to no other’, or ‘the highest authority over some polity’, or ‘an independent authority over some state, nation, or nation-state’.
    Yes, ‘sovereignty’ means ‘authority’.
    You wrote,
    “Sovereignity [sic] is self-assertion of a people over a particular piece of land”
    and also,
    “To me, the sovereign is never a person but the nation.”
    This very, very Westphalian attitude is yours to have, but it is very limited in time and scope and accepts only rather contemporary notions of nation-states as ‘real’. From the Roma to the Baluch many nations exist with no state.
    Zippy has addressed the concept of ‘all authority rests on brute force’.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    “dominion over territory is defended by force does not make it reducible to force.”
    My precise wording is “dominion over territory is secured by force”
    Unlike ownership that is secured by laws.
    “the Roma to the Baluch many nations exist with no state.”
    To be without their own land is an imperfection for a nation.

  • King Richard says:

    vishmehr24.
    You wrote,
    “To be without their own land is an imperfection for a nation”
    Even if true, it does not mean the nation ceases to be; rather that imperfection than the imperfection of Democracy.

  • Zippy says:

    A crippled father who personally lacks the physical capacity to discipline his sons is nevertheless still a father, with a father’s authority.

    https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2014/04/24/because-i-said-so-thats-why/

  • TomD says:

    The confusion of authority with power leads to all sorts of contradictions.

    Your power may cease or be ineffective, but that doesn’t change your authority – in fact, it helps make it more obvious, often.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    TomD,
    A sovereign does not have any authority over other sovereigns.
    Zippy’s remark re: crippled father is also irrelevant for the same reason.
    I am simply not discussing authority of a sovereign over its subjects, despite Zippy’s repeated attempts to muddle the point.

  • A sovereign most certainly has authority over other sovereigns. How exactly do you think a feudal system works?

  • A sovereign most certainly has authority over other sovereigns. How exactly do you think a feudal system works?

    Vishmehr is technically correct here. A feudal vassal is not a sovergien.

  • Alex says:

    As far as I understand, every sovereign receives his authority from above; from God. Thus, trying to take over a land that rightfully belongs to another is not only going against authority; it is going against the highest authority.

    Of course, it might be a little hard to say who has been given authority over this or that piece of land. But simply having the means to secure your claim doesn’t seem enough to me. It would make as much sense as saying that any law that can be enforced is just.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    Alex,
    There is nothing called “land that rightfully belongs to a people”. There is no “right” or “wrong” in this case. All nations possess their present territories solely to past conquests and maintain their present possession by force (against other nations). God has not intervened to grant authority to pieces of land. Indeed, it is not sensible to speak of authority over land.
    Sovereigns have authority over their people, not over land.

  • Zippy says:

    It seems very important to vishmehr24 to declare that there is no moral right or wrong in sovereign possession of land. But this is obviously false. There is no magical sphere of human action which is above the moral law.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    The act of dispossesion of lands of Tribe A by Tribe B is not necessarily wrong. Suppose Tribe A aggresses upon Tribe B, perhaps engaging in cannibalistic practices upon tribe B. Then tribe B is justified to wage war upon A and may be entirely dispossess them, entirely justly.

    In contrast, the act of stealing is necessarily wrong.

  • Arkansas,

    I dunno. There are High Kings ruling over lesser Kings reported in lots of places. That claim doesn’t seem to hold water to me.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    malcolmthecynic,
    You are confusing “sovereignity” with “authority”–I again recommend the first chapter of the Belloc-the French Revolution. Also, the sovereign is not a person but a political community that occupies a certain territory.

  • King Richard says:

    vishmehr24,
    You wrote,
    “…the sovereign is not a person but a political community that occupies a certain territory.”
    At this point you are arguing with the dictionary and encyclopedia.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    King Richard,
    I have cited Belloc:
    ” a political community pretending to sovereignty, that is, pretending to a moral right of defending its existence against all other communities, derives the civil and temporal authority of its laws not from its actual rulers, nor even from its magistracy, but from itself.”

    A personal sovereign, say King of France derives his kingship from the political community that is the French nation and French people. What else is kingship? A king is always a king of a particular people.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    King Richard,
    This also may be interesting (from the same source):
    “He that is most enamoured of some set machinery for the government of
    men, and who regards the sacramental function of an hereditary monarch
    (as in Russia), the organic character of a native oligarchy (as in
    England), the mechanical arrangement of election by majorities, or even
    in a crisis the intense conviction and therefore the intense activity
    and conclusive power of great crowds as salutary to the State, will
    invariably, if any one of these engines fail him in the achievement of
    what he desires for his country, fall back upon the doctrine of an
    ultimately sovereign community. He will complain that though an
    election has defeated his ideal, yet true national tradition and true
    national sentiment were upon his side. If he defends the action of a
    native oligarchy against the leaders of the populace, he does so by an
    explanation (more or less explicit) that the oligarchy is more truly
    national, that is more truly communal, than the engineered expression of
    opinion of which the demagogues (as he will call them) have been the
    mouthpieces. Even in blaming men for criticising or restraining an
    hereditary monarch the adherent of that monarch will blame them upon the
    ground that their action is anti-national, that is anti-communal; and,
    in a word, no man pretending to sanity can challenge in matters temporal
    and civil the ultimate authority of whatever is felt to be (though with
    what difficulty is it not defined!) the general civic sense which builds
    up a State.
    ———————————————————————-
    You will see that having a monachy nowise negates the point that the sovereignity resides in the nation and not in a particular person.

  • ignacy says:

    a political community pretending to sovereignty, that is, pretending to a moral right of defending its existence against all other communities, derives the civil and temporal authority of its laws not from its actual rulers, nor even from its magistracy, but from itself.

    How is that different from “the authority of government derives from the consent of the governed”?

  • Mike T says:

    @ignacy

    It isn’t, at least not to the extent it means something other than a king happens to be the highest political leader of a particular people. To the extent it means anything along the lines of “his authority derives from the good pleasure of his subjects” it is false. Though it is true that a king’s ability to actually govern is largely contingent on the support of the people, but that’s just a practical reality.

  • King Richard says:

    vishmehr24,
    I am familiar with Belloc, but he is focusing on the theory underpinning the French Revolution.
    Further, I am referencing your statement here,
    “the sovereign is not a person ”
    Yes, ‘the sovereign’ refers to a monarch or other singular leader. Your statement is like saying ‘the CEO is not a person’.
    Yes. The sovereign is a person.
    In response to the newest.
    The authority required for a moral order is derived from God. Yes, a king is only king of those who accept him (a fact that I am most acutely aware of) but moral authority does not derive from the people, else a fearsome tyrant that slaughters his neighbors for gain and enslaves the survivors with the express approval of his followers is moral.
    Further, if his people are scattered, but loayl and obedient, can you continue to support your contention that a nation *must* have a defined territory?

  • Alex says:

    The authority required for a moral order is derived from God. Yes, a king is only king of those who accept him (a fact that I am most acutely aware of) …

    Sorry, but I don’t really follow. Are you talking about being able to lead? Because, obviously, it can be pretty difficult, or even impossible, to lead a rebellious people.

    But, as far as I understand, the relationship of king and subject remain unless somehow officially broken or changed (like a feudal lord being given sovereignty because of his services).

  • fjwawak says:

    Alex, nobody is a king by nature so one becomes king by election or by obedience of his subjects. So the authority is in the people, at least in the beginning and only imperfectly. The people must appoint a sovereign and he then has the authority perfectly.

    At least some scholastics explain it that way.

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