Suppose, he says, you live in a crime-ridden neighborhood, and nothing’s being done about it. So you hunt down criminals and lock them in your basement.
After awhile, you bill your neighbors for keeping the neighborhood safe. You tell neighbors who balk that not paying means they’ll land in the basement brig with the criminals.
“Most people would recognize this as outrageous behavior,” observes Huemer, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Yet in Huemer’s thought experiment, the vigilante’s behavior is that of a rudimentary government, focused on preventing crime and collecting taxes.
This hypothetical scenario illustrates a question that Huemer argues is difficult to answer: namely, what gives a government the legitimate authority to act as it does?
“There is no satisfactory answer to this,” Huemer says. “In fact, I conclude it’s a moral illusion we’re suffering from.”