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Anarchy, State and Utopia Paperback – 21 Oct 1977
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In this brilliant and widely acclaimed book, winner of the 1975 National Book Award, Robert Nozick challenges the most commonly held political and social positions of our ageliberal, socialist, and conservative..
About the Author
Robert Nozick was the Joseph Pellegrino University Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University.
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The first part is not that good - principled people who do not violate the rights of others create governments by an "Invisible hand process" - Remember that this must be compared with other philosophical theories regarding the appearance of government (Rawls' veil of ignorance or Dworkin's clamshells which are equally bad our even worse philosophical explanations).
The second part is more interesting and thought provoking. Nozick attacks the notion of redistributive justice, equality of opportunity and democracy itself. Even if you disagree with him it is important to examine and think about his arguments.
There are two ways you can interpret this book: If you believe the world to be a constant battle for ideological supremacy then this was clearly a victory for the "enemy", if on the other hand you like moral and political philosophy for its own sake than the book will surprise, shock and entertain you.
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.
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.
2. There's a couple ways to decide if property is justly distributed: the "historical" and the "patterned." Historical breaks down as follows: justice in acquisition of said property and justice in its transfer. E basta. Patterned comes in as many flavors as you like. Egalitarian is an example of a pattern. Everybody gets the same. Another famous one that Nozick spends some 100 pages refuting is "Rawlsian," namely a distribution that leaves everything alone, except that the guys at the bottom get given a leg up. Nozick goes to town on this one, attacking the concept of the "veil of ignorance" which allegedly generates the Rawlsian distribution. Under this thought experiment, you don't know upfront if you'll be the guy who gets given the good deal or the crappy deal, so you take it easy on the guys at the bottom of the distribution. Nozick argues (convincingly AFAIC) that you can't judge from behind the veil. You'll always look at it from the angle from which you reckon you'll be placed in. Deeply philosophical stuff comes in, such as what your allocation really is. Are your brains part of your allocation? If you're a smart guy how can you think for the stupid guy? That type of deal. I was sold. But the best argument against "patterned" allocations Nozick makes is a lot better than that. Suppose we run the math, we maximise "utility" or "happiness" or whatever, according to our favorite pattern. And then suppose a couple fellows do a deal between them that they both feel is a good deal. Who are we to stop them? It can only be stuff like envy and jealousy driving us, since our allocations are unaffected. In summary, we cannot improve on the "historical" allocation, at least not from the perspective of justice. Much as we can look at the "historical" allocation and say it stinks, it's the one way of doing things that does not contain philosophical inconsistencies.
3. What does the perfect world look like, if there is no "pattern" toward which we need to strive? His answer is a bit of a cop-out. It depends on who you are, Nozick says. "Wittgenstein, Elizabeth Taylor, Bertrand Russel, Thomas Merton, Yogi Berra, Allen Ginsburg, Harry Wolfson, Thoreau, Casey Stengel, The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Picasso, Moses, Einstein, Hugh Heffner, Socrates, Henry Ford, Lenny Bruce, Baba Ram Dass, Gandhi, Sir Edmund Hillary, Raymond Lubitz, Budda, Frank Sinatra, Columbus, Freud, Norman Mailer, Ayn Rand, Baron Rothschild, Ted Williams, Thomas Edison, Bobby Fischer, Emma Goldman, Peter Kropotkin, you and your parents" might be your idea of the best crowd to hang out with, but they all may have different ideas of who they want to spend time with, what the social contract should be, whether private or public concerns are more important, if art matters, how to raise children etc. etc. So let a thousand flowers bloom, basically.
So here's why I'm glad I read the book. Most importantly, now I know what it does not say. Nozick claims, for example, that he set out to disprove point #1 and that he surprised himself when he couldn't. He does not claim anywhere in the book that things take care of themselves and reach a natural order, he does not say that some type of natural law will impose itself. He just says that the emergence of a minimal state does not violate anybody's rights. Also, while he states in the second part of the book that tax is theft, it's not some type of central tenet of the book. It's something that follows very naturally from proving that there is no such thing as a universally acceptable "pattern" for distribution. But he's almost unhappy that this flows from his arguments. You get the feeling that he wants to come back and look at this. I did, at any rate.
Also, the book is full of little gems. Like a footnote on page 239 that lists eight feelings about property, including the following:
ENVY is to prefer that your neighbor don't have something good if you can't have it
JEALOUSY is to want something you're normally indifferent to if your neighbor has it
GRUDGE is to prefer your neighbor does not have something good you happen to have
SPITE is to be prepared to miss out on something good if this means your neighbor misses out on it as well
Would not want to make it sound like I found this to be a masterpiece. The author claims in the closing pages that he had a pattern in mind all along, but the book is more of a mind-dump than anything else. And very few of the "proofs" offered are airtight and conclusive. It's for the most part proof by enumeration of cases. Except the author himself freely admits that his lists of special cases are almost never exhaustive. And at least half of them are there not to illustrate, but mainly to entertain. To entertain Robert Nozick first, and you the reader if you have the intelligence / patience / spare time to stay with him and have a chuckle. The book could have been a lot more parsimonious in the enumeration of special cases, counterfactuals, thought experiments etc. without losing any of its power. A lot of the time, reading "Anarchy, State and Utopia" feels like needing to hang up on a call from a lonely old relative, but not having the heart to do so.
So this book does not flow in a straight line. Euclid it ain't. It's more like the four color theorem, with half the proofs missing and the professor coming to class reeking of marijuana. I'm nevertheless glad I read it. It was instructive, it was at times entertaining and it made me think.
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.
Really I should say more about it but unfortuantely I am
too busy writing a dissertation on this book instead.
You needn't agree with Nozick's conclusions to find this an utterly worthwhile read. In fact, puncturing holes in the arguments of political philosophers is an interesting hobby in itself, and Nozick presents some tempting targets for someone so inclined.
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Neither conservative nor anarchist, Nozick was a classical liberalRead more