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Anarchy, state and Utopia / Robert Nozick Paperback – 1998

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By Steven H Propp - Published on
Robert Nozick (1938-2002) was an American political philosopher and professor at Harvard University; he also wrote Philosophical Explanations, The Examined Life, The Nature of Rationality, etc.

He wrote in the Preface to this 1974 book, "Our main conclusions about the state are that a minimal state, limited to the narrow functions of protection against force, theft, fraud, enforcement of contracts, and so on, is justified; that any more extensive state will violate persons' rights ... and is unjustified; and that the minimal state is inspiring as well as right." He later suggests that the transition from an "ultraminimal state" will occur "by an invisible-hand process in a morally permissible way that violates no one's rights." (Pg. 52) Later, "Those operating an ultraminimal state are morally required to transform it into a minimal state." (Pg. 119) Then, "we have arrived at a DEMOCRATIC state... (arising) from a minimal state without any blatant violation of anyone's rights..." (Pg. 290) Ultimately, "The framework for utopia that we have described is equivalent to the minimal state." (Pg. 333) That is the essence of his argument.

Along the way, he rejects redistribution of wealth (a major focus of John Rawls' A Theory of Justice: Original Edition, which Nozick describes as a "powerful, deep, subtle, wide-ranging systematic work ... (we) have not seen its like since the writings of John Stuart Mill"; pg. 183), and asserts that "the holdings of a person are just if he is entitled to them by the principles of justice in acquisition and transfer... If each person's holdings are just, then the total set (distribution) is just." (Pg. 153) He later admits, however, that "past injustices might be so great as to make necessary in the short run a more extensive state in order to rectify them." (Pg. 231)

For Nozick, "Utopia will consist of utopias, of many different and divergent communities in which people lead different kinds of lives under different institutions." (Pg. 312)

Even though Nozick came to reject this book (for example, in his 1989 book 'The Examined Life,' he called some of the positions in this book "seriously inadequate" and "unduly narrow"), it is still a challenging and very valuable work of political philosophy, and well worth extended study.
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