Friday, May 29, 2020

Nozick and Libertarianism

Robert Nozick was not a libertarian; he never said that he was. In the Preface to his 1974 book Anarchy, State, and Utopia he seems lukewarm about libertarianism; he writes: “With reluctance, I found myself becoming convinced of (as they are now often called) libertarian views, due to various considerations and arguments.” He bases his arguments on the claims about rights (mainly property rights), but his treatment of rights is weak, because he starts with a situation in which people are living in a so-called “state of nature,” which is a mythical concept; in his later work, he admits that he has developed some doubts about earlier view on rights. One of his intentions in writing the book was to refute the libertarian thinker Murray Rothbard, but Nozick never took his argument with the libertarians forward—after the publication of Anarchy, State, and Utopia, he dissociated himself from the book and didn’t respond to the criticisms of it, and much of the work that he did after 1974 is unrelated to libertarianism. But the book became immensely influential in libertarian circles, mainly because Nozick was a professor of philosophy at Harvard. I find the “Utopia” section of the book, in which Nozick describes how a minimal state and property rights can lead to the development of a society in which disputes can be resolved without conflict, particularly unbelievable—why does he assume that such a system will be acceptable to everyone? Nozick’s “Utopia” is too utopian.

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