Does Nozick Think Government Prevents the Hobbesian State or Do Others Misunderstand Him?
Aeon J. Skoble is an outstanding political philosopher, and, to my mind even better, he has honored me by contributing an excellent essay, “Anarchy, Nozick, and Gordon,” to my festschrift, Defending Liberty. In his essay, Skoble responds to my 2009 objection to his discussion of Robert Nozick’s minimal statism in Deleting the State (2008). He is kind enough to say that my objection led him to rethink Nozick’s argument for the minimal state, but Skoble concludes that the basic point of his objection is right. In what follows, I’ll try to respond to what he says.
First, though, a clarification. Skoble opposes the minimal state and argues that Nozick’s defense of the minimal state fails. Skoble says that “Gordon’s sympathies appear to fall on the side of polycentricity, though we’ve never actually had a chance to discuss this aspect of [what leads to the most stable social order]” (p. 197; by “polycentricity,” Skoble means a system of competing protective agencies). I agree with him entirely that Nozick’s defense of the minimal state fails and also concur with the arguments for anarchism given in Deleting the State. Our dispute concerns only the nature of Nozick’s argument.
As Skoble sees it, Nozick falls into a common pattern of libertarian opponents of anarchism. These opponents acknowledge that the state, even a minimal state, violates rights; but, they say, an anarchist society won’t work. It will lead to social chaos, so, to our regret, we must put up with the state. Without a state, we would find ourselves in a Hobbesian jungle, where life is “nasty, brutish, and short.” Skoble says, “I was attempting to argue that Nozick can only make this move if he’s tacitly appealing to a kind of Hobbesian worry that if the dominant protective agency has competition, it would produce a decline in social order as they found themselves in conflict” (p. 190; as we’ll see, the reference of “this move”—i.e., the restrictions that Nozick thinks the dominant agency can impose on competing agencies—is a matter of dispute between us).
Skoble is insightful in suggesting that minimal statists fear that anarchism will lead to chaos, and I would extend his point by adding that anarchists also sometimes ask themselves, “Will anarchism really work? Will it degenerate into a battle of competing protective agencies or a seizure of power by an ‘outlaw’ agency?” Skoble is also wise to specify that he has in mind a tacit appeal by Nozick to the “Hobbesian worry.” This blocks the response “Nozick doesn’t say this.” Skoble can answer that he acknowledges this but Nozick’s argument doesn’t make sense without the implicit “Hobbesia
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