Front Page Titles (by Subject) Autonomy and Anarchism - Literature of Liberty, October/December 1978, vol. 1, No. 4
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Autonomy and Anarchism - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, October/December 1978, vol. 1, No. 4 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Autonomy and Anarchism
“Autonomy and Wolff's Defense of Anarchism.” Philosophical Forum 8 (September 1976): 108–121.
Robert Paul Wolff defends anarchism on the grounds that political authority is incompatible with moral autonomy. For Wolff, political authority is legitimate only if we can rightly acknowledge the state as possessing genuine authority—that is, only if we can acknowledge that the state's commands should determine our moral obligations.
Wilson sees ambiguity and a flaw in Wolff's notion of autonomy. Wolff has actually created two divergent notions of autonomy—one in In the Defense of Anarchism and another in The Autonomy of Reason. Wolff has thus created two different arguments for anarchism. The first theory (presented in Defense of Anarchism) holds that autonomy is the primary obligation of man, an obligation to take responsibility for one's actions by deliberating about what one ought to do. Autonomy, in this sense, implies our absolute duty to reject the right of others (e.g., the state) to command and determine our obligations.
Wolff's second theory of autonomy (formulated in The Autonomy of Reason) is inconsistent with the first notion of autonomy. This second autonomy is the source of all obligations. This implies a contractual theory of obligations: obligations exist only insofar as we have freely contracted with other agents. But autonomy cannot be both man's primary obligation and the source of obligations in general. In the second view of autonomy no obligations exist other than those which arise by contract, whereas in the first view of autonomy a primary obligation exists regardless of one's contractual activities.
Wolff's proof of the contractual theory of autonomy also fails. He defends his contractual theory of obligation by asserting that no substantive principle of obligation can bind a rational agent a priori. But what if there is no source of obligations at all? Furthermore, Wolff offers no proof of the anti-a priori obligation thesis. Wolff weakly claims that the categorical imperative does not prescribe obligations but only rules out contradictory obligations. But what if there exist other sources of obligations than formal principles such as the categorical imperative?
Wolff's argument for anarchism now becomes very strange indeed. For Wolff has conceded that a rational person can have any noncontradictory obligation what-soever so long as this arises by voluntary unanimous contract. Why, then, could not rational agents agree to obey a state's commands? Unless Wolff shows this to be logically impossible, his notion of autonomy does not entail anarchism. Ofcourse, it is perverse to use political power as the source of one's obligations if it is true that autonomy is the only source of one's obligations. But there is nothing logically impossible about such a perverse society, or at least Wolff has provided no argument to that effect.