A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”

Currently, perhaps one of the best ways to maintain American dynamism, egalitarianism, and social mobility (all vital to the health of our nation) is by preserving the rights of individuals.  Perhaps one way to define those rights (and expand upon them) is as Robert Nozick does, after John Locke. From page 10 of Anarchy, State And Utopia:

‘Individuals in Locke’s state of nature are in “a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave or dependency upon the will of any other.

Nozick reasons that the only morally legitimate state is a minimal one, a state that arises out of necessity, a necessity that arises from the interactions of individuals with one another, all of whom possess the rights which Locke defines (also on page 10) as:

“The bounds of the law of nature require that “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”

So, on one hand what is nature, and how do we come to know it?  I suspect Nozick, after Immanuel Kant, views the law of nature (and laws of nature, though Locke meant something different) as being discovered through our reason.  Our reason, as Kant suggested:

“…only perceives that which it produces after its own design; that it must not be content to follow, as it were, in the leading-strings of nature, but must proceed in advance with principles of judgement according to unvarying laws, and compel nature to reply its questions.”

After Kant, this would be something like modern-day physics: using equations and a lot of math to try and explain what we actually observe of nature and understanding its laws.

Yet from his thinking, Kant also developed the categorical imperative, and the categorical imperative requires us to behave as though our actions could be willed to a universal law; or something like the golden rule.

So, on the other hand when applied to civil society and human rights, the Kantian approach is one that expects people to be remarkably free, and remarkably responsible for their actions.

This is where, for many readers, we’re getting into utopian territory.  As you may have noticed, people steal, rob and murder.

Don’t we need a police force (if not corrupt) that protects and serves all of us against violence? Doesn’t it need to be arbitrary and have the threat of force behind it?  Isn’t that best handled by the state?

Nozick is well prepared for those counter-arguments, which constitute much of his book. This quote found here sheds some light on Nozick’s approach:

“There are various philosophical views, mutually incompatible, which cannot be dismissed or simply rejected,” he wrote in “Philosophical Explanations.” “Philosophy’s output is the basketful of these admissible views, all together.

Worth a read if you’re flirting with libertarianism.

More On Nozick and his thinking here, at the Internet Encyclopedia Of Philosophy.

Addition:  I realize this analysis to be Kant-heavy, due to my own reading lately.   More on Locke here at Stanford.

Also On This Site:  Of course, what if the central ideas upon which Kant’s philosophy rests are logically flawed…as his metaphysics certainly aren’t a prerequisite for studying the sciences (and might hinder them for all I know) A Few Responses To Kant’s Transcendental Idealism

Related On This Site:  From If-Then Knots: Health Care Is Not A Right…But Then Neither Is Property?  From First Principles: Locke, Our Great Founders, and American Political Life

Also:  What does a Kantian influence look like in political science? Daniel Deudney on Bloggingheads

From Climate Audit: Baby Whirls-Improved Detection Of Marginal Tropical Storms

Full post here.

“With the North Atlantic hurricane season officially starting in a couple weeks (June 1), but possibly getting a head start with a developing low-pressure system in the Bahamas, considerable attention will be paid by the media to each and every storm that gets a name.”

Like swine flu scaremongering, it’s perhaps for the best.

As for the global warming science, it’s complicated.  I’m a generalist and would like to work against the tide of those who insist action must not only be taken by individuals to reduce their contribution to the excess carbon in earth’s atmosphere, but by governments, mostly through regulation of economic activity.  Those are two different issues.

Related On This Site:  Hurricanes By Popular Demand

Andrew Revkin In The NY Times: Global Warming Moderation From Bloggingheads: On Freeman Dyson’s Global Warming Heresy…From The WSJ-A Heated Exchange: Al Gore Confronts His Critics…From The Literary Review–Weather Channel Green Ideology: Founder John Coleman Upset.

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From The Atlantic: Richard Florida On The Decline Of The Blue-Collar Man

Full post here.

“The economic crisis is hitting hardest at working class jobs, and rates of male unemployment have skyrocketed. A commonly asked question is how do we retrain them for emerging job opportunities in other sectors.”

We can’t bring the old jobs back, I agree, and Florida focuses on an important problem.  However, his semi-utopian vision of what we ought to do next has found an easy target in this post:  the blue-collar mindset.

He establishes his credibility: 

“I grew up in that culture. My father worked his entire life in a factory. I spent my high-school summers doing factory work. Sexism and racism ran rampant. Fights were almost every day occurrences: Working class disagreements almost always end in them.”

Apparently, that time in his life was kind of a classist, violent dream, rife with the objectification of women and the derision of minorities.  This finally ended with his acceptance into the “middle-class:”  

“When a Garden State scholarship enabled me to attend Rutgers, I was floored by the relative safety, meritocratic orientation, and personal freedom afforded by middle-class culture.” 

I’m glad he found more opportunity for himself, and to develop his gifts within the “class structure” that people obsessed with class structures probably do a lot to contribute to the actual making of class structures.  This is something, and important.

He also attributes aggression only to males.  Physically, I would partially agree (but tell that to a young girl beat up by other young girls in a rough neighborhood).  However, Florida is clearly appealing to (or really believes in) the one sex better than another belief in current public sentiment.

“The demise of high-paying blue-collar jobs and the economic devestation it means for families and and communities is tragic. But the demise of that old-school working-class male mind-set is not something to be sad about.”

Hard work?  Sacrifice?  Loyalty to family and friends and to work so that one’s children have more safety, opportunity and personal freedom?

Some of his economic analysis is sound, but Florida seems to gloss over a lot of what poverty is, blue-collar or not, in a fog of both idealism and political opportunism (alligning his fate with the political winds). 

Plenty of room for disagreement here…

And what do we do with a shrinking industrial sector?  with skilled auto parts manufacturers?  

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From Reason: Going Dutch?

Full article here…which is a response to this article by Russell Shorto.

You may not trust the NY Times to be arbitrary in holding the Netherlands up as a model for taxation given their loyalties, but is looking Europe-ward a total fantasy?

Michael Moynihan argues no:

“There are indeed lessons to be learned from countries like the Netherlands. Which means that supporters of the “European model” must acknowledge that most of these successes—as is the case in many other European countries—are the result of a significant overhaul of base social democratic assumptions about government control of labor markets and health care systems. In other words, as the U.S. moves towards them, they continue to move towards us.”

…because we are already becoming more like each other.  This is a surprisingly pragmatic stance for the libertarians.

Is America’s dynamism based on its youth and independence and geographical isolation?  Is some form of greater social contract (in the form of greater government oversight of social services) an inevitable outcome of civilization? 


Karl Popper saw the disintegration of the Austrian left in the face of fervent nationalism, militarism and a racism that was particulary virulent.  Is the chaos that resulted a possible outcome in supporting such kinds of European leftism?…what other factors contributed to this past bloody European century?  

Here’s a quote of his:

“…and if there could be such a thing as socialism combined with individual liberty, I would be a socialist still. For nothing could be better than living a modest, simple, and free life in an egalitarian society. It took some time before I recognized this as no more than a beautiful dream; that freedom is more important that equality; that the attempt to realize equality endangers freedom; and that, if freedom is lost, there will not even be equality among the unfree.”

See Also On This Site:  Charles Murray, ever the contrarian, argues yes, it is a fantasy: Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People…Is this just the libertarians following Will Wilkinson’s advice: Will Wilkinson And Jonah Goldberg On Bloggingheads: Updating Libertarianism

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From The Wall Street Journal Via AL Daily: Buckminster Fuller’s World

Full article here.

Terry Teachout takes notice of the traveling exhibit:  Buckminster Fuller:  Starting With The Universe (at the Whitney in late June).  So was Fuller comparable to Frank Lloyd Wright?:

“…Fuller was a Wright-like figure, a high-octane utopian who believed in the life-enhancing potential of modern technology. The difference was that Fuller lacked Wright’s ruthless determination.”

Both have their followers and left some interesting work behind.  The discussion also reminds me of the explosion of science fiction this past century, and some of its darker mystic, utopian…and even religious (cultlike-this is alleged of course) tendencies that can make for good reading. 

This is one point Teachout wants to address when such ideas are pulled into the political realm:

“Was modernism totalitarian? That’s coming at it a bit high, but it’s true that more than a few top-tier modernists were also one-size-fits-all system-mongers who thought the world would be improved if it were rebuilt from top to bottom — so long as they got to draw up the plans.”

I first came across that argument here.  Do such visions have potentially harmful consequences in the political arena?

Perhaps, but in the meantime Fuller’s geodisic dome (platonic solids, ever-existing?) is still pretty interesting.

See Also On This Site:  Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?..Jonathan Meades On Le Corbusier At The New Statesman

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From Homunculus Via Virtual Philosopher: Do We Need Another Reason?

Full post here.

…to frame our thinking in the science vs. religion format?

“So there is little to be gained from trying to topple the temple – it’s the false priests who are the menace.”


“If we can recognize that religion, like any ideology, is a social construct – with benefits, dangers, arbitrary inventions and, most of all, roots in human nature – then we might forgo a lot of empty argument and get back to the worldly wonders of the lab bench. Given the ‘usual suspects’ feeling that attends both the Reason Project and most Templeton initiatives, I suspect many have come to that conclusion already.”

And you’re probably among those many…

See Also On This Site:  Can you build a secular structure without the depths of religion?: Repost: Martha Nussbaum Channels Roger Williams In The New Republic: The First Founder…Daniel Dennet is trying to provide a solid base of science instruction for all Americans against the follies of creationismDinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…Do you have to follow Nietzsche and the existentialists out to radical, romantic and potentially nihilistic individualism (and the profound denial of the existence of God and morality itself)?: A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche Connection

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From Foreign Policy Via Arts & Letters Daily: The Idiot’s Guide To Pakistan

Full guide here.

After reading, I’m still a little confused.  Our most clear interest is in preventing the region from becoming a haven for those terrorists who seek attacks on civilians around the world (a place from which a potential terrorist attack on U.S. soil couldn’t politically be allowed to happen, let alone morally if there was knowledge aforehand).

Yet, we have a porous Afghan/Pakistani border, tribal and ethnic loyalties as well as conflicts, a corrupt Afghani government next door, the Taliban, Al-Quaeda in the mix, the Pakistani military (with divided loyalties),  a weak Pakistani government with nuclear capabilities and a hatred for India…

Promote economic development in the face of extreme poverty, lack of education and violent militias seeking pure religious rule?  Engage and try and stabilize Afghanistan with the military and then…?

Related On This Site: Andrew Sullivan On The New Plan In Afghanistan..Sarah Chayes On Afghanistan In The Boston Review: Days Of Lies And Roses..From Bloggingheads: Andrew Bacevich And Heather Hurlburt Discuss Afghanistan And Pakistan..A Few Thoughts On The FATA Region Of Pakistan

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From The City Journal: Obsessive Housing Disorder

Full article here.

Homeownership has always been an important part of American life, and it is often a heavily politicized one (potentially alligned with the shorter-term interests of many politicians and politics) Steven Malanga argues that the government should aim to leave the economy to its own devices:

“First, our experience since the Great Depression teaches us that a rising economy is the best and safest way to boost homeownership”

and more realistically to have:

” …the federal government to tie aid to states to local regulatory reforms that reduce the cost of construction and encourage additional building.”

There’s a little in the way practical positive thinking here, but I think the subtext is mostly:  liberal policies that seek to correct social inequalitites through government oversight of housing and lending to potential homeowners can lead to disaster, and we should pursue them now no less than before

Now that we’re having to compete in a global marketplace…will the loss of manufacturing jobs be replaced with the service industry…and green jobs?  

See Also On This Site:  Richard Florida has a vision based upon some reasonable analysis, but a vision that’s a little too hip and government -centric: From The Atlantic: Richard Florida’s ‘How The Crash Will Reshape America’ 

Property rights are ‘negative,’ like life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness?: From If-Then Knots:Health Care Is Not A Right…But Then Neither Is Property?

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Ann Althouse On The Scope Of Frank Rich’s Imagination-From The Comments Section


Full post with comments here.

Here are a couple of quotes from the comments I found myself sympathetic to (the argument is that the media has a center left bias, and looks at politics through this bias)…up to a point.

“the concept of government officials (presidents in particular) as “leaders,” which chips away at individualism and liberty and promotes the state’s power.”

Well, they are leaders, but in this case I think the reader means a submission to authority which alligns with one’s unchallenged beliefs, as though those beliefs couldn’t be reasonably challenged.  Aside from political concerns, it’s intellectually lazy.  I don’t think it’s going anywhere.

Here’s another one:

“…terms such as “the Hispanic vote” or “the black community.” This one is easy, of course: It presents American society as a batch of blocs, rather than as a country of individuals, and again plays into the leftist idea that all relationships are about power, etc.”


Identity politics can potentially reward loyalty to groups and fiefdoms and erode individual, and other deeper, unifying national identities.  But if you’re a strict libertarian, how far do you take individualism?  After all, the schools, the roads, the collection of taxes, the military, even civic life itself rests upon some sort of social contract.   Can you stay reasonable?  Maybe he should look at the work of Robert Nozick,  as opposed to say…John Rawls.

Perhaps one can imagine in the not too distant future the fiefdoms, identity groups and races potentially uniting (if we’re lucky) in a common national cause under a national banner against a common enemy…with say…an unwise war resulting.

But I’m not so sure, it’s tough to say.

See Also On This Site: From Andrew Sullivan: A Brief Discussion Of John Rawls..From The City Journal: The Roar Of Justice-Philosopher Raymond Geuss, An Idealist In Realist’s Clothing..From Prospect: Eric Kaufmann On ‘The Meaning Of Huntington’..From The Hoover Institution: Stanley Kurtz On Francis Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington