Nozick and the Minimal State
Robert Nozick’s derivation of a minimal state in the first part of Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) has generated a lot of criticism, and you might think there is nothing new to be said about it. I have a new point, though—at any rate, I haven’t seen it discussed—and this is what I’m going to talk about.
Nozick’s starting point resembles Murray Rothbard’s anarchism. The fundamental principle of his book is that individuals have rights. There are things you can’t do to individuals without violating these rights. Individuals are separate beings. Contrasting moral views, such as utilitarianism, don’t take seriously the differences between people. There is no collective entity that is better off if some are sacrificed to others.
These rights aren’t maximizing principles, but “side constraints.” They are like rules in a game, not moves within it. Side constraints imply that we aren’t trying to minimize the total number of rights violations by anyone. Each person isn’t even trying to minimize the total of his own rights violations. Rights just forbid you to do things. Possibly they lapse in catastrophic situations, but Nozick doesn’t commit himself about this.
The rights individuals have include rights over their own bodies. Property rights are individual. The world starts out unowned and people have to do something to resources to acquire them. What they have to do to acquire resources is
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