A Critique Of Robert Nozick’s Political Philosophy

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A Critique Of Robert Nozick’s Political Philosophy


Abstract


This paper critically examines Robert Nozick’s political philosophy contained in his book, Anarchy, State, and Utopia. The main purpose of Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Accordingto Nozick, is to show that the minimal state is morally justified. By “minimal state”Nozick means a state that functions essentially as a “night watchman” with powers limited to those necessary to protect citizens against violence, theft, and fraud. Nozick adopts and defends what he calls “the entitlement theory” states that the distribution of holdings in a society is just if (and only if) everyone in that society is entitled to what he has. This paper, after critically assessing Robert Nozick’s political philosophy argues that Nozick’s moral justification for the state is uncompelling. The paper is of the view that at time it is not only necessary but desirable to redistribute wealth and resources so as to help those in need. Moreso, possession of wealth by individuals might be a product of chance rather than talent and ability.


Chapter One


Introduction

Robert Nozick (1938-2002) was an American philosopher, best known for his rigorous defense of libertarianism in his first major work, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974). During his high school and college years, Nozick was a member of the student new left and an enthusiastic socialist. At Columbia, he helped to found a campus branch of the league for industrial democracy. While in graduate school, he read works by libertarian thinkers such as F. A. Hayek and Ludwig Von Mises, and his political views began to change. His conversion to libertarianism culminated in 1974 with the publication of Anarchy, State, and Utopia, a closely argued and highly original defense of the libertarian “minimal state” and a critique of the social-democratic liberalism of John Rowls.

The main body of this work falls into four parts; introduction, Nozick on moral right Nozick’s minimal state and appraisal of Robert Nozick political philosophy.


1.1 Statement of the Problem

Nozick’s natural rights – particularly the right of self-ownership and the consequent right to the fruit’s of one’s labour present an obvious problems if we desire any state at all, no matter how minimal.


1.2 Purpose of the Study

The objective of this work is to look at moral rights and side constraints, state of nature rights, foundation of rights, the attenuation of rights, the minimal state versus individualist anarchy, the minimal state, the challenge of individual anarchism, response to the anarchist challenges, justice holdings, the historical entitlement doctrine about justice in holding, the critique of end state and patterned principle, Nozick’s Lockean Proviso, the rectification of historical is justice and utopia.


1.3 Justification of the Study

Nozick’s political philosophy is researchable because of the problem that usually surround the issue of right. In most case, some government try to intervene with individual right. A good example could be seen in Nigeria, where individual rights to religion, life, speech etc is often been constrained by state coercive power. Based on this, Nozick’s political philosophy is researchable on the ground that individuals have rights, and there are thing no person or group may do without violating this rights.


1.4 Significance of the Study

Anarchy, state, and utopia, these works essentially revived the discipline of political philosophy within the analytic school, whose practitioners had, until Nozick came along, largely neglected it. Nozick’s also revived interest in the notion of rights as being central to political theory, and it did so in the service of another idea that had been long neglected within academic political thoughts, namely libertinism.


1.5 Scope of the Study

It is important to point out that although we are working in Robert Nozick’s political philosophy, we are however working specifically at Nozick’s natural rights as well as to criticize some view made by Nozick in anarchism, state and utopia.


1.6 Overview of Nozick’s Political Philosophy

The main purpose of Anarchy, State and Utopia is to show that the minimal state, is morally justified. By a minimal state Nozick means a state that function essentially as a “Night Watchman”, with powers limited to those necessary to protect citizen against violence, theft, and fraud. By arguing that the minimal is justified, Nozick seeks to refute anarchism which opposes any state whatever, by arguing that no more than the minimal state is justified Nozick seek to refute modern forms of liberalism as well as socialism and others leftist ideologies which contend that, in addition to its power, as a night watchman, the state should have the powers to regulate the economic activities of citizens to regulate the economic activities of citizens to redistribute wealth in the direction of greater equality, and to provide social services such as education and health care.

Against anarchism, Nozick claims that a minimal state is justified because it (or something very much like it) would arise spontaneously among people living in a hypothetical “state of nature” through transactions that would not involve the violation of anyone’s natural rights following the 17th century English philosopher John Locke. Nozick assumes that everyone possesses the natural rights to life, liberty, and property including the right to claim as property the fruits or products of one’s labour and the right to dispose of one’s property as one sees fit (provided that in doing so one does not violate the rights of any one’s else). Everyone also has the natural right to punish those who violate one’s own natural rights. Because defending one’s natural right in a state of nature would be difficult for anyone to do on his own. Individual would band together to form “protection association”, in which members would work together to defend each other’s rights and to punish rights violator.

Eventually, some of these associations would developed into private business offering protection and punishment services for a fee. The great importance that individuals would attach to such services would give the largest protection firms a natural competitive advantage, and eventually only one firm, or a confederation of firms) would have a monopoly of force in the territory of the community and because it would protect the rights of everyone living there, it would constitute a minimal state in the libertarian sense. And because the minimal state would come about without violating anyone’s natural rights, a state with at least its powers is justified.

Against liberalism and other leftist ideologies, (modern form of liberalism) Nozick claims that no more than the minimal state is justified, because any state with more extensive powers would violate the natural rights of its citizens. Thus the state should not have the power to control prices or to set a minimal wage because doing so would violate the natural right of citizens to dispose of their labour as they see fit. For similar reasons, the state should not have the power to establish public education or health care through taxes imposed on citizen who may wish to spend their money on private services instead. Indeed, according to Nozick any mandatory taxation used to fund services or benefits other than those constitutive of the minimal state in unjust, because such taxation amount to a kind of “force labour” for the state by those who must pay the tax.


1.7 Aim of the Study

The aim of the work is to critically examines Robert Nozick’s political philosophy which is contains his book Anarchy, State and Utopia. According to Nozick is to show that the minimal state is morally justified. By a minimal state Nozick means a state that function essentially as a “night watchman” with powers limited to those necessary to protect – citizens against violence, theft and fraud. Nozick adopts and defends what he calls “The Entitlement Theory”. By way of explaining the entitlement theory of justice Althan (10) maintains that Nozick’s vision of legitimate state power thus contrasts remarkably with that of Rawls argues that the state should have whatever powers are necessary to ensure that those citizens who are least well-off are as well off as they can be (though these powers must be consistent with a variety of basic rights and freedom). This viewpoint is derived from Rawls’ theory of justice one principle of which is that an unequal distribution of wealth and income is acceptable only if those at the button are better off than they would be under any other distribution.

According to Althan (11) Nozick’s response to such argument is to claim that they rest on the false conception of distributive justice; they wrongly define a just distribution in terms of the pattern it exhibits at a given time (example, an equal distribution or a distribution that unequal to a certain extent) or in terms of the historical circumstances surrounding its development (example those who worked the hardest have more) rather than in terms of the nature of the transactions through which distribution came about. For Nozick, any distribution of “holdings,” as he calls them, no matter how unequal, is just if (and only if) it arises from a just distribution through legitimate means. One legitimate means is the appropriation of something that is owned in circumstance where the acquisition would not disadvantage others. A second means is the voluntary transfer of ownership of holdings to someone else.

A third means is the rectification of past injustices in the acquisition or transfer of holdings. According to Nozick, anyone who acquire what he has through these means is morally entitled to it. Thus, the entitlement theory of justice state that the distribution of holdings in a society is just if (and only if) everyone in that society. Thus the aim of this work is to show that Nozick’s moral justification for the state is far from compelling on the ground that the independent (few individual) where force to pay for the services they initially do not want may be they do not have money to pay for security but the dominant protection force them to pay, as such Holmes (40) is of the opinion that since the minimal state has considerable power, it is not different from a state with all powers usually associated with it. The paper is of the view that at time it is not only necessary but desirable to redistribute wealth and resources so as to help those in need. Moreso, possession of wealth by individuals might be a product of chance rather than talent and ability. We should at this point look at Nozick’s on moral rights in order to have clear idea of state of nature right.


Chapter Four


Critique of Robert Nozick’S Political Philosophy

Having taken a critical look at Robert Nozick’s political philosophy, it is safe to say that Nozick make a remarkable achievement, especially in his defense of libertarianism which is a political philosophy holding that the role of the state in society ought to be severely limited, confined essentially to police protection, national defense, and the administration of courts of law, with all other tasks commonly performed by modern governments – education, social insurance, welfare etc. Taken over by religious bodies, charities, and other private institutions operating in a free market, in Nozick’s view whatever its practical benefits, the strongest reason to advocate a libertarian society is simply that such advocacy follows from a serious respect for individual rights.

Nozick’s is also commended on this view that individual has rights. 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”. The idea here is that a human being, as a rational agent endowed with self-awareness, free will, and the possibility of formulating a plan of life, has an inherent dignity and cannot properly be treated as a mere thing, or used against his will as an instrument or resource in the way an inanimate object might be.

In line with this, Nozick also describes individual human being as self-owners which is a claim that individuals own themselves, their bodies, talents and abilities, labour and by extension the fruits or products of their exercise of their talents, abilities and labour. Nozick here challenges John Rawls’ arguments in a theory of justice that conclude that just inequalities in distribution must benefit the least well-off. Alot of criticisms has been leveled against Nozick’s political philosophy. Among such is that since the minimal state has considerable power, it is not different from a state with all power usually associated with it. It is also argued that at time it is not only necessary but demanded that resources be redistribute so as to help those in need, since the possession of wealth by individuals might be product of chance rather than ability, Esikot 101). Exdell (23) maintains that the trouble for Nozick is illustrated by a single questions: “what don’t the anarchists want?” under anarchism, the independents were independents precisely because they did not want the protection agency’s services enough to pay for them. May be they thought the price was too high. Maybe they thought they could better protect their rights on their own maybe they took a principled stand against a market in rights protection. The precise reasons independents chose their independent status doesn’t matter. That they chose it-and thus rejected agency protection at agency prices – does.
But the ultra-minimal state, as it becomes a genuine state, forces independents to accept its services and then forces them to pay for the services. Nozick hopes to keep this force from turning into a rights violation by having the ultra-minimal state compensate the independents with services – services that were precisely what the independents did not want in the first place.

In the end, almost no one thinks Nozick’s arguments against anarchism holds up. There may well be other ways to get from strong natural rights to a morally legitimate state, of course. But for those we will have to look elsewhere.


4.1 Conclusion

Anarchy, State and Utopia (1974) contained Nozick political view which seeks to justifies minimal state, as well the discussion of the issue of distributive justice. Nozick adopts and defends what he calls “the entitlement theory”. Nozick appealed to the Kantian idea that people should be treated as ends (what he termed “separateness of persons”), John Rawls’s arguments in a theory of justice that conclude that just inequalities in distribution must benefit the idea least well off. The paper after critically assessing Robert Nozick’s political philosophy is of the view that at times it is not only necessary about desirable to redistribute wealth and resources so as to help those in need. Moreso, possession of wealth by individuals might be a product of chance rather than talent and ability.


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