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Prejuria without Utopophobia

Summary:
In a previous post, I questioned why Estlund thinks the state is just. Like Cohen, he argues at length we shouldn’t dumb down the requirements of justice to accommodate common moral failings. But if people were just plain decent, let alone morally perfect, it’s unclear why we would need to create a centralized authority which threatens people with violence to ensure conformity to various rules.To motivate the need for a state, Estlund gives the example of Prejuria in Democratic Authority: Ms. Powers, who owned one of the community’s general stores, was seen by at least a dozen people (so they say) sneaking out the back of Faith Friendship’s general store, with which Ms. Powers’s store competes for customers, just before Mrs. Friendship’s store burned to the ground. This

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In a previous post, I questioned why Estlund thinks the state is just. Like Cohen, he argues at length we shouldn’t dumb down the requirements of justice to accommodate common moral failings. But if people were just plain decent, let alone morally perfect, it’s unclear why we would need to create a centralized authority which threatens people with violence to ensure conformity to various rules.

To motivate the need for a state, Estlund gives the example of Prejuria in Democratic Authority:


Ms. Powers, who owned one of the community’s general stores, was seen by at least a dozen people (so they say) sneaking out the back of Faith Friendship’s general store, with which Ms. Powers’s store competes for customers, just before Mrs. Friendship’s store burned to the ground. This struck many people as less than surprising, Ms. Powers being a ruthless businesswoman when she isn’t busy entertaining one man or another. This was a year ago, and Ms. Powers has since found it impossible to live a decent life in Prejuria, since no one will talk to her, do business with her, or intervene when she is verbally or even physically accosted, which often happens if she goes out in public. She reasonably fears leaving her house now, and lives on the meager provisions she makes herself. It so happens that this roughly corresponds to the pun- ishment that is known, in the public rules, to be associated with the crime of which she is accused: extended imprisonment. Everyone real- izes, though, that she is also in danger of being killed by some of the community’s rougher elements. (p. 138)

But, as I said, people in Prejuria are acting in rather rotten ways, indeed, worse than most people I know. Maybe lousy people like them need a state, but that at best shows the state is an excusable response to persistent injustice among rotten people. Why would good people need a state?

How might an ideal theoretic description of Prejuria look?

Ms. Powers, who owned one of the community’s general stores, was seen by at least a dozen people walking out of the back of Faith Friendship’s general store, with which Ms. Powers’s store competes for customers, just before Mrs. Friendship’s store burned to the ground. This struck many people as a total coincidence since Ms. Powers is well-known for being a kind, honorable, and honest businesswoman when she isn’t busy entertaining one man or another. [I don’t see any reason to change her social life in the ideal theoretic example.] This was a year ago, and Ms. Powers has since continued to lead a wonderful life in Prejuria, with everyone continuing to talk to her and do business with her, and with no one ever verbally or physically accosting her or anyone else.

Since everyone in Prejuria has always and everywhere acted rightly all the time, the citizens of Prejuria realized that it was possible, but exceptionally improbable, the Ms. Powers burned down her competing store, or that her “sneaking out the back” showed any evidence of bad behavior. They quickly dismissed this possibility because it was so improbable. Indeed, subsequent investigations showed that she was indeed invited by her competitor over for a friendly discussion, much as two athletes might be friendly to each other despite working for rival teams. Instead, her rival store had a freak electrical problem.

Her rival store owner was of course perfectly conscientious and already had insurance, but if she had somehow faultlessly gone bankrupt, everyone would have chipped in and gotten her back on her feet, all without any need for violent taxation.

As for whether Prejuria would have competing businesses, yes, yes they would.

Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan (Ph.D., 2007, University of Arizona) is Robert J. and Elizabeth Flanagan Family Chair and Associate Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at the McDonough School of Business, and by courtesy, Associate Professor of Philosophy, at Georgetown University, and formerly Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Research, at Brown University. He specializes in political philosophy and applied ethics.

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