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.” ‘


‘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. ‘


‘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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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