"ANARCHY, STATE AND UTOPIA"
ROBERT NOZICK 1938 - 2002
A NOTE FROM IIFOR - UPDATED
Robert Nozick died of cancer Wednesday 23. January 2002, 63 years old. He had been ill several years, but worked close to the last breath, as a professor at Harvard University, USA. He visited Norway, and held a lecture in 1993.
Robert Nozick's main work was "Anarchy, State, and Utopia" (1974). His views were moderated a bit in the book "The Examined Life" (1989). He also wrote several other books and articles.
Nozick was mainly a semilibertarian plutarchy* theorist. He defends in his works so called "libertarianism", which is in reality not libertaire, i.e. libertarian in the meaning of anarchist, but a semilibertarian, on average not significant authoritarian (more than 50% authoritarian degree) capitalism (more than 50% plutarchy), according to the anarchist economic-political map. Thus, the systems he discusses and advocates are mainly not in the anarchist quadrant on the economical political map, but represents different forms of semilibertarian liberalism, also called "New-Liberalism" and sometimes the "New Right".
Nozick's systems are found within the quadrant of liberalism on the economical political map, see System theory and economic-political map - EPM.
The basic problem with Nozick's theory relates to the term "anarcho-capitalism", i.e. "anarchy-plutarchy"*, which is contradictive - an oxymoron. A system cannot be both significant anarchist and plutarchist at the same time. In practice Nozick mainly advocates plutarchy, and thus not anarchy. And thus Nozick's "freedom" is just quasilibertarian.
"Libertarianism" holds that the overlap between the public and private ought to be minimal. However for Nozick, whether redistribution of the wealth of society should occur is an open question.
The spokesmen for semilibertarian capitalism, who a bit wrongly call themselves "libertarians", argue that existence of [significant] inequality isn't necessarily unjust. They mean it is just if the transactions leading up to the present have all been "free and fair"; otherwise it is unjust. A main problem with this theory is that slavecontracts are allowed and seen as "just and fair", in contrast to anarchism, which rejects that the concept of free contract includes slavecontracts. Nozick was especially clear on this, i.e. that his theory allowed for slavecontracts.
Say, in "Anarchy, State, and Utopia" (1974), Part III Utopia, Nozick writes: " ... even though in it [utopia] they are abject slaves... they will not leave... their payoff will not be bid up in a competitive market." p 302; and on p 331: "The comparable question about an individual is whether a free system will allow him to sell himself into slavery. I believe that it would." This is an honest and logical conclusion from the assumptions of semilibertarian capitalism, that other spokespersons of this economic-political tendency mainly try to cover up...
For an anarchist freedom is the opposite of slavery, not including slavery, i.e. authoritarian! This also means that the Nolan Chart, made by the American "libertarian" David Nolan, is a non-scientific, false economic-political map, because the so called "libertarian right" on this chart includes authoritarian systems. This also means the similar map of the so called Political Compass is false. This compass does not point in the right direction. As opposed to these maps, the anarchist economic-political map - EPM is scientific and correct.
Within a semilibertarian right competitive market framework, Nozick has a relatively pluralistic approach to his Utopia. He means: "Any group of people may devise a pattern and attempt to persuade others to participate in the adventure of a community in that pattern", p 316. Among more authoritarian writers also anarchists as Bertrand Russel, Emma Goldman and Peter Kropotkin are mentioned, p. 310, as well as "mutualist communities (Proudhon)" and "kibbutzim", p. 316. But anarchy on country-basis is of course not compatible with a liberalist, semilibertarian right competitive market framework. Anarchism and liberalism are opposites.
The "free market", a "free market system", is at odds with free people, defined as a class in contrast to the superiors economically and/or political/administrative, i.e. in income/wealth and/or rank. In short, when the markets are free, the people are slaves, significant. Ragnar Frisch, the Norwegian economic Nobel Prize winner, and social-individualist anarchist, investigated the "free market system", liberalism, which also includes the semilibertarian right competitive market framework, and concluded this was a form of unenlightened plutarchy. This conclusion is confirmed by other economists, libertarian and others, many times, and stands as a practically certain scientific valid fact. This also means that the liberty concept in American "libertarianism" is false and ideologically twisted in plutarchist/capitalist direction.
Nozick's theory is called the "ENTITLEMENT THEORY."
The entitlement theory is historical. It views transfers as justice "preserving." Thus, for "libertarians", justice in holdings is a historical matter. Nozick's problems, say, with "end-state principles" (utilitarianism), and with "distributional-patterned principles" (Rawls, Marx, and some anarchists) -- Nozick and John Locke's (1632 -1704) proviso -- may be mentioned. A usual question to Nozick's theory is: How can we have a libertarian system given the difficulties of rectification?**
Nozicks entitlement (i.e. a type contract-ethical) theory has 3 major topics:
1. Original acquisition of holdings. This gives us the principle of justice in acquisition.
2. Transfer of holdings. This gives us the principle of justice in transfer.
"If the world were wholly just, the following induction definition would exhaustively cover the subject of justice in holdings. 1. A person who acquires a holding in accordance with the principle of justice in acquisition is entitled to that holding. 2. A person who acquires a holding in accordance with the principle of justice in transfer, from someone else entitled to the holding, is entitled to the holding. 3. No one is entitled to a holding except by (repeated) application of 1 and 2. - The complete principle of distributive justice would say simply that a distribution is just if everyone is entitled to the holdings they possess under the distribution."
3. Rectification of injustice in holdings. This is needed because the world is not "wholly just."
All in all, as mentioned, mainly a semilibertarian plutarchy theory, which is not anarchy, anarchist (libertarian) or anarchism, because "anarchy-plutarchy" is a contradictive concept, and including slavecontracts indicate plutarchy, significant. Thus, it is a theory of liberalism. Anyway, his theories are not extreme antistatism, i.e. advocating 100% autonomy, but more of a "minimal" political/administrative state point of view. Thus, an estimate of 60 -70% plutarchy (capitalism), and 5 -10% statism is probably close to his "utopia".
Furthermore Nozick has a tendency to wrongly mix up state/statism/government with public sector. Thus his a bit vague concept of "anarchy" as a hypothetical "natural state" is probably far from real anarchy, but more of a "right to the strongest system" with close to 100% political/administrative autonomy, plus an extreme plutarchy, i.e. a blue and brown economical-political state far right on the economical political map, with more than 67% authoritarian degree, very far from the anarchist quadrant of the economic-political map.
But despite of the mentioned contradictions and mixing up public sector with government/state, and a polemical, non-academical style, he was an interesting thinker, but just semilibertarian to the right, and not really anarchist. However, in a broader libertarian perspective, including semilibertarian statism to the left, and semilibertarian capitalism to the right, main stream Nozick theory may be accounted for as (semi) libertarian.
The IIFOR expresses the deepest condolences with the relatives of Robert Nozick, and his name as a (semi) libertarian thinker should not be forgotten by the anarchists.
*) Plutarchy/ism may be a) economical, i.e. capitalism in economic terms - economical hierarchy, and/or b) political/administrative. With plutarchy in the text above mainly a) is meant.
**) Since anarchism, ideal anarchy included, allows for a significant public sector if necessary to achieve maximal efficiency and fairness, this question is probably principally solved in anarchist theory, but how this shall be implemented in practice is still an interesting question.