The Philosopher’s Stone

Ludwig von Mises observed that there are two and only two kinds of social cooperation: voluntary, implemented through formal and informal contracts, and involuntary (hegemonic), implemented by force of authority. We are all familiar with both kinds of cooperation and most people would agree (if they thought about it at all) that both are needed. The preferred kind of cooperation depends upon circumstances. Our society, and most of our institutions, rely on various combinations of contractual and hegemonic cooperation.

Hegemonic cooperation has the advantage of speed and certainty, while contractual cooperation has the advantage of fulfilling the needs and wants of more people. Most political issues are, at heart, disputes over whether contractual or hegemonic cooperation is appropriate. While there are few people at the extremes who desire a totally contractual or a totally hegemonic society, most of us see the wisdom of some kind of a blend. But I have not found anyone expressing a coherent philosophy that explains when each mode of cooperation is appropriate.

America’s founding fathers gave it a go, defining a hegemonic framework that mostly served to protect a contractual society, but it was flawed by the acceptance of slavery (the ultimate in hegemonic systems) and was abandoned by it’s strongest supporters with the Louisiana Purchase. Over time, we have allowed government to assume ever greater hegemonic power, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill, but always lacking a coherent philosophical framework.

Am I searching for the Philosopher’s Stone? Or is it possible that someone out there has thought this through?


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