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Anarchy, State and Utopia Paperback – 21 Oct 1977

4.1 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (21 Oct. 1977)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465097200
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465097203
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.1 x 2.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 404,732 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


"...This book is the best piece of sustained analytical argument in political philosophy to have appeared for a very long time." Mind

"...complex, sophisticated and ingenious." Economist

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Robert Nozick was the Joseph Pellegrino University Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University.

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback
Robert Nozick argues from the (Kantian) principle that nothing and nobody can use an individual as a means rather than an end. We are inviolable in ourselves as individuals and as owners of our property (legitimately acquired in the form of land etc.; or understood as our bodies/minds). Any boundary crossing not expressly consented to, is a violation of these fundamental negative rights. Understood as such, any state that seeks to redistribute through taxation is performing an unconsented-to boundary crossing, and is therefore guilty of violation of these fundamental rights.
It’s altogether a very impressive feat of logical, consistent argumentation from first principles. I find the book impeccable. I am not a libertarian after reading Nozick’s book, but it has forced me to devote a lot of time and energy to working out why I’m not a libertarian. After all, who can disagree with the principle of ‘don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want others to do to you’? The morality underlying Nozick’s edifice is entirely acceptable, and yet as the argument progresses I found myself getting more and more uncomfortable. The problem has to do with which rights you might agree are fundamental and inviolable. Is the right to property, however acquired, fundamental to liberty? Nozick argues that it is. Without justice in property, there is no justice. Or Freedom. Or Liberty. Without the concept of private property, we are all potentially slaves to the State.
Concomitant with that proposition is an attitude which can be labelled ‘individual atomism’. Nozick, in keeping with other libertarians like Von Mises, Rothbard and Hoppe believes that individuals are paramount, unique and indivisible. Nothing may impinge on them.
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Format: Paperback
I simply had to say that this book, though certainly not perfect, is a very interesting (and even entertaining) piece which certainly gives Rawlsian liberals something to chew on. In complete contrast from what an earlier reviewer has said, this book is hardly an embarrasment to Nozick, and while he has altered his positions on some points in the book, his later work is hardly a repudiation of AS&U.
Nor, as this previous reviewer writes, is AS&U only currently of interest to Randian libertarians. This is absolutely preposterous, as Nozick actually went out of his way to dismiss Rand in subsequent work, and the forumlations of his arguments here are not Randian. They are far more Lockean. One might also mention that the book did win a National Book Award, which (to me at any rate), would seem to indicate that it is probably not your everyday Randian screed.
As a junior in college, I took a course in political philosophy at the University of Michigan, which boasts of the nation's top faculties in ethics. The introductory political philosophy course that I took there gave heavy doses of both Rawls and Nozick. People who know what they are talking about consider Nozick's book quite important in debate of contemporary political philosophy. Those who clearly don't know what they are talking about (see the 1-star review below) ... well, they simply slam the guy and the book.
In summary, well worth a read.
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By Athan TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 11 Feb. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is NOT light reading. Then again, it's a philosophy book, and nobody obliged me to read it. I kept reminding myself of this every time I had to re-read a paragraph for the third time before giving up on understanding it.

So there you have it, I fully admit that whole sections of this book went over my head. But I'm glad I read it. Well, I'm not glad I read Chapter 1, which is entitled "Why State-of-Nature Theory?" I would have understood exactly as much of it if it had been written in Sanskrit. And very often this reads like the rantings of a madman. But a fun madman. A humble, honest madman with some amazing moments of clarity.

Executive summary:

1. Nozick sketches how a protection agency that guarantees its members' safety and/or property within a particular locale, while striving to compensate non-members for potential transgressions by its members, not only is morally justifiable, but also isn't a million miles away from what we call a state. So if you are some type of anarchist who does not like it, you don't have to join (and you and your fellow anarchists obviously can't expect it to look after you) but if you're just some guy who does not have hangups like that and there's a choice of protection agencies you will naturally go for the one that's most effective in the area where you live. So it's a bit of a natural monopoly locally and it's not something too distasteful. And it's a de facto minimal state. So a multitude of such contiguous minimal states can arise without violating anybody's natural rights. Takes him more than 100 pages to prove the statements I'm repeating (potentially mangling) here, but that's the gist of it.

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Format: Paperback
Having read Rawls as part of my degree, we were also given parts of Nozick to compare it with. On reading the book, it seemed to be a more impressive argument when you see how all of his different ideas link together. He does make a forceful critique of Marxism in particular, and notes how Marxist ideas of "expoitation" could render parts of the welfare state as exploitative. There are three big problems though.

First, this was written back in the days when political debates were Left v Right. It makes no mention at all of environmentalism, and the only time that it mentions animal rights is as an example of an absurdity [Nozick actually believes that eating meat is immoral, but he uses this as an example of how utilitarianism cannot be used as a grounds for the state]. Nozick works on the old premise that, if everyone works hard enough, everyone can get what they want. In this day and age, any such argument must at least respond to the environmentalist argument that this would make life on Earth unsustainable - and I can't see how anyone can convincingly argue that.

Secondly, the book is too American. He talks about universal rights, which belong to every human being, yet writes as if Americans are the only human beings of interest. What about those in other countries who have these rights yet may have greater difficulty in setting up his sort of state [e.g. greater corruption, poorer infrastructure]. If taxation is the theft that Nozick makes it out as, is it unjust that people in Iceland may have to pay greater taxes to protect their natural rights than people in Singapore do [due to admin costs]?
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