Saturday, September 30, 2006

Roderick Long on the Collective Action Problem

Many Objectivists, in supporting the use of weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations, make the claim that relatively few civilians are truly innocent. For example, Diana Hsieh wrote:

"No government -- no matter how repressive -- can possibly maintain its grip on power when actively, seriously opposed by a majority -- or even a dedicated minority. The fact that people in Iran might grumble about the concrete policies of their government does not mean that they oppose it in principle. Sure, a few do that -- but the sputtered-out student revolts of a few years ago indicate that they were nothing more than a small minority."

As Roderick Long notes, such arguments ignore the problem of collective action:

"In any case, the claim that refusing to rise up against a tyrant counts as de facto consent to the tyranny embodies a collectivist fallacy: confusing the individual with the group. It’s quite true, as La Bo├ętie and Hume famously pointed out, that tyrannical governments cannot survive without the acquiescence of their subject populace. But to suppose this means that the individual members of this acquiescing populace have consented in some straightforward and unproblematic fashion ignores the collective action problem (see here and here) involved. If we all resist the tyrant, the tyranny will fail; but if I resist the tyrant first, without sufficient support, I’ll just be martyring myself for nothing. Coordinating simultaneous and effective resistance is, notoriously, no easy task. "

"In an article in The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution (or The Return of the Primitive, as her heirs have chosen to rename it), expressing empathy for some dissidents on trial in the Soviet Union, Rand wrote: 'I do not mean that I would have been one of the accused in that Soviet courtroom: I knew enough, in my college days, to know that it was useless to attempt political protests in Soviet Russia.' Doesn’t that make Rand herself one of those Soviet citizens who made no 'significant protest' against the regime and so are allegedly morally culpable? A reductio ad absurdum, surely.

No comments: