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Moral Constraints, Distributive Justice and Equality in Context A short, explanatory review of Nozick’s justifications of the existence of a minimal state and general criticism on the functions and responsibilities of the state

Prepared by: Mathias Royce, ID3915 Doctoral Candidate in Political Economy Swiss Management Centre University Zurich, Switzerland

Prepared for: Prof. Kurt Leube, Swiss Management Centre University Zurich, Switzerland May 29th, 2010


Abstract: A detailed review of Anarchy, State and Utopia by Robert Nozick does not leave much room for interpretation with regards to Nozick’s actual intention, which is to incorporate Kantian logic to a higher degree in assessing the impacts of a number of shared moral codes amongst humans and animals alike, and to an extent more fundamentally, to be in stark controversial opposition and critique of Rawls’s political theory of organised redistribution endorsed by the state. Nozick’s main tenet throughout his work was to uphold a principle that refutes aformentioned redistribution as a responsibility of the state and by doing so he rallies arguments for the minimalist state. Rawls’s earlier work A Theory of Justice, on which Nozick takes the opportunity to respond through his work, should be seen as an interpretation to propagate a rather social strain of liberalism and as such stands in direct continuation of some of the most prevalent principles of Bentham, Mill and Keynes. Nozick in comparison dismisses the equality of opportunity derived out of state-endorsed redistribution and bases his logic on negative liberty – an individual’s liberty free from intrusion and intervention of other individuals or entities, propagated through history by e.g.: Hobbes, Locke. With this argumentation, Nozick defends and takes Hayekian neoliberal and libertarian tenets into account, which focus precisely on negative liberties of individuals that are in stark contrast to the artificially administered equality of opportunity of social-liberalism. From Anarchy to the Ultraminimal State: Nozick argues along Locke’s theory, which foresees the emergence of a state-like entity from the state-of-nature due to the inherent characteristics of property which calls for protection through means of a limited government that not only establishes but enforces the basic rights and freedoms under the rule of law. The key point in Nozick’s argumentation lies in the limitation of government. In his view, the emergence of a minimal state is precisely due to


such – I would go as far as saying natural requirements of property protection, which has materialised from an initial state of anarchy. The minarchist view upheld by Nozick evolves out of the principles of a Night Watchman State and in essence explains the unjust growth and spread of state power beyond aforementioned limits of a minimalist state. Any manifestation of state power above this minimalist threshold, so Nozick argues concisely, would then call theoretically for a treaty, hence only a state that has received the full accordance of every citizen that was entitled to select between alternatives forms of being governed, can be considered as an authorised and compliant state in view of the endorsement of its citizenry. This thought raises philosophical questions with regards to the emergence of political governance and Nozick addresses these by means of digression, where he questions the general criteria that are morally permissible for states arising out of anarchy, and in particular, whether any state – and to this extent, what kind of state is better than none? Nozick’s theory differentiates the minimal state from the ultraminimal state. The latter, favoured and advocated by Nozick is free of any redistributive characteristics, in particular the coerced redistribution to pay for the protection of others. As such, the characteristic of the ultraminimal state features a protective association controlled through the state that claims a monopoly on the use of force but does not protect everyone, apart from its subscribers. In reviewing Nozick’s concepts, we understand that the state-of-nature knows two inherent deficiencies: a) the seemingly endless feud, which is constructed out of different perceptions of the gravity of the infringement viewed once from the perspective of the offender and once from the perspective of the victim, and b) the apparent enforceability of natural rights of the individual – albeit those are granted, the individual might lack capabilities defending those when challenged. In logical succession, Nozick proposes the formation of a private protection agency that resembles a special purpose alliance for the sole rationale of defending each member’s protective interests, which would theoretically counteract these two


aforementioned deficiencies. Such private protection agencies thence are subject to natural growth and logistical reasons would consequently limit their operational radius. Exerting such contracted protective power thus would expand beyond the current form into a state similar to a regional force – a regionally prevailing security agency. Nozick provides three different ways of dealing with conflicts arising out of opposing verdicts of jurisdictional systems of different regionally prevailing security agencies: a) war between conflicting entities, b) recognition of opposing jurisdictional systems and c) the establishment of a framework regulation that governs the exposure to such conflict situations with regards to possible assistance of an arbitration board. The subsequent evolvement would be the ultraminimalist state succeeded by the minimal state – both of which have been discussed earlier. Self-Ownership and Individual Rights: the Individual in the Minimal State: In Nozick’s belief, the individual is self-owned and inherently inviolable. This is true to the Kantian logic of individuals being rather ends than means. He furthermore argues that such aforementioned individuals, as a matter of consequence, would be invested with rights to themselves. Nozick’s assertion and defence of individual rights concerning property and liberty extends on the use of fundamental tenets which were already established under Locke. A night watchman state in the minimalist sense, so Nozick’s argument, protects its citizen from aggression, violence, thievery and contractual infringements whilst concurrently administers and regulates fair property transfers whilst safeguarding a non-interference policy concerning the right of pursuing an individual’s own ends. Distributive Justice: Nozick bases his understanding of distributive justice around Hayekian thought, which in essence outlines that it is impossible to know an adequate amount about an individual’s


situation to distribute justly to each individual in accordance to what his morals merit him to receive. By saying this he refutes any impression of a deliberately chosen pattern of distribution on society, regardless of its order of equality or of inequality. In a free society distribution nevertheless would naturally occur as a matter of value rather than being based upon an individual’s moral merit. Value here should as such be contrasted with society’s perception of an individual’s actions that concern others. Under Nozick, redistribution in the sense and context of a free-market economy is unjust and he explains in his Entitlement Theory that redistribution is conditionally justified by means of consent. Not only are these clear maxims which in significance are similar to Locke’s ideas of property emerging out of the state of nature, but Nozick delivers an analogy that compares tax payments to the state with forced labour, in order to illustrate precisely such missing consent. Upon closer examination of Nozick’s arguments his obvious disdain for distributive justice becomes apparent and as such he argues that distributive justice really means that society as a whole or an entity would have means available for redistribution, while in reality redistributive resources only appertain to individuals who possess the sole right to do with them as they please – either holding on to their assets and resources or transferring them. It’s within the last part of this argument where the linkage to Locke’s thought is the most striking. Under Nozick only voluntary distributions are just – just in the sense that none of the parties have a valid reason for complaint, since complaints are a sign of injustice. Consequently, voluntary distributions that do not produce any reasons for complaint are thus considered to be just. Utilitarianism: Nozick, strongly in opposition of utilitarianism gave the undeniable and convincing counterargument to its prevalent obsession with accrual of private pleasure. When all that matters is the build up of the greatest probable quantity or sum of individual happiness (or rather subjective states of happiness), individuals most certainly would feel the desire to be


everlastingly connected to what he calls “Experience Machines” – contraptions capable of delivering illusionary experiences detached from their ordinary cause that individuals indisputably would yearn to be subjected to. Nozick hence argues that viewing total happiness as a solitary value is rather an absurd and simplistic view of setting aforementioned utilitarianism in context, since any individual being alone in illusionary experience would feel discomforted by the absence of additional things, individuals would ordinarily care about. He highlights that in addition to the happiness that is derived by an individual through perception of how an individual would feel about his life from an inside perspective, additional matters individuals care about would need to be included, making happiness not the only value under utilitarian constraints. Utilitarianism is commonly seen as having a fortifying and supportive character with regards to the defences of welfare states. Bentham’s utilitarian philosophy impacting Victorian England is only one, but perhaps the most striking example. In conclusion of this, Nozick postulates that the limits of state action generally are being framed by the rights of individuals and expounds the prevalent, inherent weakness of utilitarianism in terms of conflicting interests between the inviolable rights of an individual and the needs of society and how such individual rights can override the joint requirements of society. It is thus the inviolable individual rights that influence and lastly determine the various possibilities in which society engages in establishing and accomplishing its goals.

Bibliography Nozick, R. (1974). Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell Hayek, F. A. (1960). The Constitution of Liberty. Chicago: University of Chicago Press Rawls, J. B. (1971). A Theory of Justice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press Barnett, R. E. (1977). Whither Anarchy? Has Robert Nozick Justified The State. In: Journal of Libertarian Studies Vol.1, No.1, pp. 15 – 21 Leube, K (2002). Nicht das Ergebnis menschlichen Entwurfs. In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung No. 70, March 23rd, 2002 Laski, H. J. (1920). Political Thought in England from Locke to Bentham. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston Singer, P. (1976). Why Nozick Is Not So Easy To Refute. In. The Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 29, No.2 pp. 191 - 192


Moral Constraints, Distributive Justice and Equality in Context