Repost-From Slate: ‘The Liberty Scam-‘Why Even Robert Nozick, The Philosophical Father Of Libertarianism, Gave Up On The Movement He Inspired.’

Full piece here.

Metcalf is arguing, I think, that Nozick’s reasoning is unsound (philosophical father?).  Here’s Metcalf:

‘When I study American history, I can see why America, thanks to a dense bundle of historical accidents, is a kind of Lockean paradise, uniquely suited to holding up liberty as its paramount value. This is not what Nozick is arguing. Nozick is arguing that liberty is the sole value, and to put forward any other value is to submit individuals to coercion.’

Well, it’s good to see a modern liberal appeal to Lockean life, liberty and property, even if for other ends (to position Nozick as extreme, and libertarians as outside the norm of a more reasonable definition of liberty).  Here’s the Internet Encyclopedia Of Philosophy’s page on Nozick:

‘Nozick takes his position to follow from a basic moral principle associated with Immanuel Kant and enshrined in Kant’s second formulation of his famous Categorical Imperative: “Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only.” ‘

and:

‘But if individuals are inviolable ends-in-themselves (as Kant describes them) and self-owners, it follows, Nozick says, that they have certain rights, in particular (and here again following Locke) rights to their lives, liberty, and the fruits of their labor. To own something, after all, just is to have a right to it, or, more accurately, to possess the bundle of rights – rights to possess something, to dispose of it, to determine what may be done with it, etc. ‘

thus:

‘So far this all might seem fairly uncontroversial. But what follows from it, in Nozick’s view, is the surprising and radical conclusion that taxation, of the redistributive sort in which modern states engage in order to fund the various programs of the bureaucratic welfare state, is morally illegitimate. It amounts to a kind of forced labor’

Perhaps you find Nozick’s minimally intrusive, all-that’s-morally-justifiable “night watchman” state inadequate for how people actually behave (Nozick was well prepared, however, for many of your arguments). Let’s say you’re OK with paying taxes for roads and public education (as for me I know quite well that incentives can be distorted: state workers often getting lazy, bored, resentful at their bosses, aiming for retirement etc…teachers not often being the best minds, some quite mediocre, also aiming for retirement and benefits, bored, the creative ones ground down by the red tape and petty bureaucracy…and this is if both groups DON”T unionize).  But no state services for roads and education?

So, what is Metcalf’s response to Nozick?  After two readings, I’m still unclear:

The ploy is to take libertarianism as Orwell meant it and confuse it with libertarianism as Hayek meant it; to take a faith in the individual as an irreducible unit of moral worth, and turn it into a weapon in favor of predation.’

The ploy?  Predation?  Clarity please.

‘When Hayek insists welfare is the road is to serfdom, when Nozick insists that progressive taxation is coercion, they take liberty hostage in order to prevent a reasoned discussion about public goods from ever taking place.’

Not too impressive.  I could see how liberals might want to keep Rand and F.A. Hayek and perhaps Nozick (thinkers grappling with communism and socialism on the ground in the former cases…and the results in both Russia and Austria…from defining the debate, but….well…make the arguments).   Comments might be worth a read.

Addition:  Libertarianism often rises during liberal administrations, and is particularly active in California.  If liberalism has at its core some socialist and communist elements (and in my experience, it does), then I see a real need for a Nozickian defense of liberty as do many libertarians and Californians who’ve seen the rise of a union and special interest controlled democratic party, crony capitalism, and much corruption and waste.  Those are serious threats to individual liberty as are the good intentions of many universalists and idealists, even if you find Nozick extreme.

As to Nozick perhaps unwittingly building a Kantian/Lockean extreme defense of liberty, built upon the largesse of a mix of state/private enterprise that modern liberalism has helped build, then where is a more clear path from modern liberalism to classical liberalism, and to Locke?

Related On This SiteA Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”Link To An Ayn Rand Paper: The Objectivist Attack On Kant

On anarchy: Two Sunday Quotations By Albert Jay Nock in ‘Anarchist’s Progress’The Politics Of Noam Chomsky-The Dangers Of Kantian Transcendental Idealism?

Tuesday Quotation: J.S. MillPeter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

There are other ponds: A Few Quotations From F.A. Hayek’s: ‘Why I Am Not A Conservative’

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