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On Anarchy, State & Utopia (1974), ch. 1-3 and 7.
What moral limits should we put on government power? Nozick thinks that the only legitimate functions of government are protection and enforcement of contracts. Contra Rawls, Nozick's "entitlement" version of justice doesn't look at income inequality or any other pattern of holdings, but only at whether holdings were legitimately obtained, e.g. through purchase, gift, inheritance, reparation, or taking something unclaimed. Of course, since our current distribution of wealth has its historical roots deep in war and pillaging... Hey, never mind that, says Nozick!
The full foursome are joined by Slate's Stephen Metcalf. Read more about the topic and get the book, and also listen to Seth's introduction.
End song: "Samuel" by Geoff Esty (with singing by Mark), revamped from the 1994 album Happy Songs Will Bring You Down by The MayTricks. Read about it.
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Rand and Nozick down, all good, now please have a look at the first half of Michael Huemers The Problem of Political Authority =)
Doug Pinkard says
Hard to see a justification for leapfrogging Mises and Rothbard in favor of Michael Huemer.
Does this mean we will finally get an episode on Hayek’s political theory?
Ken Presting says
Good discussion of a dense work. One of the issues which came up reminded me of an issue which is familiar in mathematics but not so common in philosophy.
It is critical to Nozick’s argument that if a certain distribution of resources at a certain point in time is fair or permissible, then free transactions between responsible individuals will preserve the relevant moral quality of the society. If we start from an OK place, and trade something fair and square, we will be equally OK after the trade.
In the podcast this property was compared to proofs in formal logic. If we start with true premises, and infer other propositions using sound rules of inference, then our conclusions will be true as well. The problem which arises is that some rules have this property and some don’t. Sometimes rules which appear intuitive don’t have this property after all. So you need to check before you proceed.
Nozick’s idea of a fair transaction is vulnerable to this problem. Nozick wants to connect his theory with John Locke’s ideas about private property, as all libertarians do. Locke started with a society in which there is no private property at all, but allowed that individuals could make something (some land, or some raw materials they collect) their own by working on the material and improving it – “mixing their labor” with it. But Locke added a famous warning, which came to be called the “Lockean Proviso.” This holds that it’s fair and square to make some unclaimed property your own, only as long as you are leaving enough behind for anybody else who comes behind you, and wants some of the same stuff themselves. One must “leave as much, and as good” material for others, was Locke’s memorable phrase.
Here is where the problem gets started. The first few people who start farming virgin land, collecting valuable rocks and minerals, or fishing and hunting might not be changing the environment much at all. But once a bunch of people get busy doing the same thing, resources can become scarce. There may not be as much left for others as there was before. David Hume made a related point about moral theory – in a time of plenty, there is unlikely to be much social conflict. But when times bring scarcity, people will come into conflict.
There is also a connection to the classical “Sorites” or paradox of the heap. We might have a nice big pile of something useful like apples or bricks. If one person takes a few off the pile, it’s still a nice big pile. But eventually if enough pieces are taken away, it won’t be a pile at all anymore.
In mathematics, this is is called the closure of a set under an operation. The operation here is taking an apple off the big pile, or collecting wood or rocks from the forest. The forest or the pile of apples is not “closed” under the operation of “taking one away,” because sometimes when you take something away, what’s left is not a pile anymore. On the other hand, the set of true propositions is closed under the operation of logical inference. That is, once we know that the rules we are using are sound. Frege and Russell among others worked hard to give us the rules we have now, and they didn’t get it right the first time.
Nozick’s ethical argument has a problem which is shared by many market-oriented philosophies. Processes which are free or voluntary on a small scale of individual transactions can lead to where large numbers of people are in very bad places. One familiar extreme example is the “tragedy of the commons” where some basic resource becomes exhausted or extinct, as in grazing land becoming barren, or fishing waters losing their species. Extinction is well known in prehistory and recorded history. In modern economic systems this corresponds to cornering a market, or establishing a cartel. A sequence of free transactions can lead to a situation in which all or some of the population has lost the opportunity to make the choices they used to have. The choices can just disappear, because the resources are gone, or because one actor now has exclusive control.
Some libertarians argue at this point that the monopoly will eventually be undermined, or that the disappearing resource was unfit for evolution, that it should never have been common anyway, or that there will be unintended consequences for any social system. Or they will argue that inequality is perfectly normal.
But we must always examine the premise that the so-called “free” transactions really do have the logical property which the libertarians claim – that a free transaction will never ever change a fair and moral system into an unfair one. Locke was very well aware that this assumption might not hold, and his Proviso is often neglected by present-day Libertarians.
Mark Linsenmayer says
Very well put!
Daniel W Jones says
Property rights theory is one of the hot topics in political philosophy right now, libertarians argue that all rights are property rights. You guys should do a show on this…maybe on Hoppe or Rothbard. Hans Herman Hoppe is an interesting libertarian philosopher because of his Argumentation Ethics which was in many peoples minds an ethical proof of libertarianism. Stephan Kinsella might make for a great guest on this subject, he is the leading libertarian property rights philosopher right now, his work on argumentation ethics, estoppel theory, human action, praxeology, and IP is super rigorous and top notch…
Just an idea for what could be a really interesting show
Athena Sophia Speculi Ustorii says
This thread is obviously quite old at this point, but I just wanted to say thank you for your comment!
I found it extremely helpful in terms of my own understanding of at least one aspect of Libertarian arguments. It very clearly lays out and puts a fine point on (what I would consider) a serious issue worthy of deep, critical analysis within the Libertarian tradition. As a caveat, I must add that I am not especially well-versed in Libertarianism as a tradition, especially of the Nozickian variety, and that therefore I am far from qualified to claim to have any serious analysis in that regard…Moreover, I should add that I’m sure that anything I might have to add has probably already been stated better by others who are more informed and more insightful than I.
That said – and for whatever my two cents are worth, I have been thinking a lot recently about the particulars of this exact sentiment (though not so eloquently or succinctly). My apologies beforehand for my long-winded-ness!
Now, what exactly are we to make of the claim that, “a free transaction will never ever change a fair and moral system into an unfair one.”
Following your line of argumentation (and perhaps just spelling out what you were already intimating), while also noting that it was something that was mentioned during the episode – The first and to me most obvious issue that would make me question the notion that free transactions, etc. necessarily entail a fair and moral system would be the issue of the environment (e.g., fair transactions may ultimately result in serious environmental degradation that subsequently deforms the liberty and rights of others to “freely” transact, like in the case of air pollution that causes disabling health problems and/or that makes the planet less habitable/productive for large numbers of people, animals, and other organisms, etc.).
Moreover, I think that this particular environmental concern is a larger issue that has been raised by a lot of other (more philosophically minded) people who tend to question the veracity of that line of Libertarian argumentation in general.
Again, going back to the idea that “all free transactions are (necessarily) fair,” I would also like to question the Libertarian position that opposes a minimum wage. I am certainly over my head here in general, but especially in terms of how and if this line of thinking fits into Libertarian conceptions of “free transactions,” as well as how connected it is to Nozick in particular.
To me, it seems that in a Nozickian Libertarian society, things like a no-minimum-wage – and the like, would entail a concrete opening/incentivization into blatantly discriminatory practices.
What follows may be nonsense, given that I am fairly unfamiliar with Libertarian moral ideas and thoughts in general. Unfortunately (for some), I am willing to forge ahead in my own ignorance with some superficial speculations. Here goes…
Logically, by having no minimum wage, it would appear that there is an implicit and informal incentive to discriminate baked into the structure of such a no-minimum-wage-society, thus incentivizing employers to perpetuate and reproduce a de facto caste system (e.g., women could be paid $4 an hour to wash dishes, while men were paid $8 an hour to wash dishes, etc. – if a given society is sexist enough, then this might be the only type of choice that women would have if they wanted/needed to work). Importantly, the incentive to discriminate doesn’t necessarily disappear with the introduction of a minimum wage, though at some point the cost of discriminating in terms of separate, parallel payment structures for the same work (e.g., $8 an hour for women vs. $16 an hour for men to wash dishes) becomes prohibitive and/or disincentiving.
Moreover, though there may be other arguments against a minimum wage from a Right-Libertarian perspective, we should note that neither a minimum wage nor a no-minimum-wage-system by themselves would necessarily impose a cost on discrimination (i.e., a disincentive to discriminate). Nonetheless, a minimum wage is necessarily value neutral with respect to a person’s identity (i.e., the basis upon which they would be discriminated against). A minimum wage formally instantiates a presumption of equality among members of a society. In that sense, it guarantees equal pay and an equal starting place for equal work.
If we reject a minimum wage, then we must also thereby endorse the idea that a presumption of inequality is permissible since there is no ostensibly neutral Libertarian metric that formally prohibits it (e.g., the non-worseness claim). At that point, the burden of proof would seem to fall on advocates of a no-minimum-wage-system/Libertarianism to justify why discrimination is formally appropriate/acceptable and why we should reject the presumption of equality.
Such advocates would (I hope) need to reckon with the argument (from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Equality) that universal norms and rights enforced through inner or external sanctions are morally justified only if, on the one hand, they can be reciprocally justified, i.e., if one person asks no more of the other than what he or she is willing to give (reciprocity), and if, on the other hand, they are justified with respect to the interests of all concerned parties, i.e., if everyone has good reasons for accepting them and no one has a good reason for rejecting them (universality).
It seems fairly obvious to me that a formal argument in favor of the permissibility of discrimination and the concomitant rejection of the presumption of equality would necessarily fail in terms of both reciprocity and universality.
To fundamentally reject both reciprocity and universality seems philosophically (and economically) untenable (from my perspective). It also seems to plant the seeds for a profoundly divisive and discriminatory society – such a society would necessarily inhibit the creative potential of any free market system (assuming that such a system was the most preferred), as well as the freedom/liberty of the individuals therein. If anything, there is no reason to assume that a purely free market of the Right-Libertarian variety would necessarily be one of the least discriminatory, especially when 1) such a system actually incentivizes discrimination via the mechanism of lower financial burdens, and 2) history is filled with examples of unequal, discrimination based parallel wage structures.
Lastly, let us somehow invert the Wilt Chamberlain example and exchange Mr. Chamberlain for any number of popular identities and antagonisms – male vs. female, white vs. people of color, straight vs LGBTQ+, Christian vs. Muslim, American vs. Mexican, Western vs. “Non-Western,” etc.
There is no reason to assume that – using Nozick’s own logic, we couldn’t imagine a world where individuals who occupied the dominant/primary position within those binary hierarchies could get “rewarded” for nothing other than their own identity; *or* that any such uniformly applied, identity based “gift/reward/payment” system wouldn’t also simultaneously act as a de facto punishment/partial non-payment to individuals in the non-dominant/non-primary positions.
If we take a look at Nozick’s Chamberlain argument (from Wikipedia), and re-imagine the situation while substituting “Men” for “Chamberlain” (and while also kind of ignoring how exactly this example would be physically possible), then quite a different picture emerges –
Nozick’s famous *MENS'” argument is an attempt to show that patterned principles of just distribution are incompatible with liberty. He asks us to assume that the original distribution in society, D1, is ordered by our choice of patterned principle, for instance Rawls’s Difference Principle.
At a particular pizzeria, there are 5 male pizza makers and 5 equally talented female pizza makers. (And, they all take turns making the ingredients for the pizza…as a *team*). “MEN” are extremely popular in this society, and Nozick further assumes that 1 million people are willing to freely give these particular 5 “MEN” 25 cents each to see them work over the course of a season. These 5 “MEN” now have a total of $250,000 each, a much larger sum than any of the other people in the pizzeria, including the 5 equally talented female pizza makers. This new distribution in society, call it D2, obviously is no longer ordered by our favored pattern that ordered D1. However, Nozick argues that D2 is just.
Despite the awkwardness of my rewrite, this kind of situation and worse (e.g., a society with a permanent peasant class/caste) would obviously seem completely absurd, were it not for the fact that our (economic) history is filled with examples exactly like this. And, importantly, it would appear as if this type of extremely discriminatory society would be fully possible within the framework of Nozickian Libertarianism.
For me, it would seem that free transactions – at the very least, are not *necessarily* “just” and/or fair since any free transaction may also instantiate discrimination via a rejection of the presumption of equality (or otherwise), even when done through the pseudo-simulacrum of a “gift/reward.”
If I can thread the needle (which I doubt), the implicit argument here being that everyone (presumably) has a right to non-discrimination, recognizing that discrimination sacrifices individuals for the achieving of ends to which they do not consent, thereby making them worse off than they might have been otherwise had no discrimination occurred. It should be pointed out that consent to lower remuneration does not also necessarily entail consent to being discriminated against and/or that those who have been discriminated against have also been duly compensated for the overall diminishment of their utility and welfare.
This in turn (and arguments like it), would appear to turn Nozick’s argument in on itself, perhaps exposing some kind of antagonism/contradiction/shortcoming in his argument…but I am absolutely in no position to make that kind of assessment. Nonetheless, free transactions that sacrifice individuals for the achieving of ends to which they do not consent – thereby making them worse off than they might have been otherwise, are perhaps just, but not fair according to Nozickian standards. This sentiment would seem to lead us to the third feature of Nozick’s Lockean Proviso which suggests that “even if the proviso is violated, those who have acquired justly do not have to surrender their holdings — albeit they need to provide compensation to those whose situations are on net worsened by the existing system of holdings” (Nozick entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
…Such a perspective seems highly suggestive in light of the current threat of global environmental devastation.
Moreover, questions regarding what constitutes and qualifies as “free” consent, coercion, exploitation, the viability of “negative rights” as a fully coherent notion, non-worseness, and I’m sure any number of other things still loom (for me).
There is surely plenty more to explore (and learn), but I’m tired. This is as far as I’ve gotten with this line of thinking. For now, I will leave it to others to expand on, ignore, or find fault in these ideas.
Thanks to any and all who may have made the slog through this!!! And, thank you again Ken, for your insights and inspiration!
All property rights theories (libertarian or communal or whatever) are inherently highly problematic. It’s unclear why anyone woud be entitled to property rights (which comes with the implied rights to coercively exclude others from use and control) over e.g. land just because they “were there first” (e.g. native people/original inhabitants), have “homesteaded it” (e.g. libertarian property rights theories), are “occypying it” (e.g. some leftist property rights theories) or whatever.
Since no property rights theory can ever be “proven” correct, it’s arguably better to simply acknowledge that property rights are ultimately just social constructs that can, should and will vary depending on the context. Constant experimentation with and competition between multiple property rights systems is better than stagnant institutionalized monolothic ones.
That said, some property rights theories appear to me preferable to both individuals and groups more than others. It appears to me as if societies are better off with strong market-oriented private property rights than communal-oriented weak private property rights. The former appear to allow societies relative prosperity even against the odds and even in the case of unfair starting points. (e.g. small places virtually void of natural resources like Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, European micro-states etc)
The nominally “free” nature of market transactions obviously isn’t fundamentally free in a philosophical sense, but then, is there really anything that is? And how are state alternatives that aren’t even nominally free any less unfree?
I enjoyed the Podcast, and was motivated to read the primary material. I just cannot see how Nozick gets off the ground with this project, for with all his careful analysis, his underlying premises get only the weakest of arguments for support (I think Wes pointed this out several times). On pages 32-33 he lays out at least one of his foundational convictions with the barest of argument:
“There are only individual people, different individual people, with their own individual lives. Using one of these people for the benefit of others, uses him and benefits the others. Nothing more…He does not get some overbalancing good from his sacrifice…”
Does Nozick not see how contributing to state-wide projects–projects that perhaps do not directly put money back in the individual’s pocket–might somehow contribute to the well-being and good of an individual’s life? Examples are easy to come by–for instance, its a good idea to have sewage systems, even if many people can’t pay into the maintenance system.
I think Nozick denies the concept of societal good as a ground for political reasoning, in part, because he is a dogmatic epiphenomenalist with regard to society. Recall that for the mind-body problem, epiphenomenalism is briefly the idea that mental events have no causal efficacy in the world, and are an impotent by-product of physical brain events–they are in essence ‘appearances’ that need not be considered when pondering the existent objects in the world. Nozick takes it that society is akin to the mental and individual people are the brain–society is not a causally efficacious entity in itself, but a by-product of individuals acting in particular ways. We ought never consider societal good because society is nothing more than an epiphenomenon, and as such, it is a categorical mistake to talk about society having a good at all. A society, as an entity, cannot suffer injustice; only individuals can. Nozick abides by this conviction which drives the course of his arguments.
This line of thought fits in with what you guys called Micro and Macro forms of justice or political reasoning. Nozick focuses on micro, or the individual justice, and does not feel that Macro, or social reasoning, can directly influence our thinking on the individual level because the social does not really exist as an entity; it is all appearances, and cannot influence material individuals. Of course Nozick is more nuanced than I have made him out to be, throwing caveats here and there…
I never understood why everybody concludes that ilbertarians do not want roads, sewers, schools etc.
I think the question is, how does the ‘invisible-hand’ of market forces make these benefits happen for all people in a geographic region, even members who don’t pay in directly–benefits that most people want, even Libertarians? Nozick provides a story for how physical protection arises, and how members of a protection agency will choose to pay for other non-members who have not paid in, but he does not provide a similar story for other shared community structures that I am aware of. However, since Nozick provides a mechanism and reason for members of an association to pay for non-members, and claims that it benefits the members to do so, then why not extend this reasoning to other community structures? Nozick does not do this, nor does he explain why his form of ‘redistribution’ stops at protection agencies, other than claiming that it is a violation of rights to do more than this.
I bring up sewage because there is a clear similarity to providing physical protection through protection agencies. Giving everyone sewage limits overall disease in the population and protects everyone physically from the harm of disease. It would likely benefit the members of a sewage association to ‘pay’ for non-members, less the members want to pay even more for healthcare costs, cleaning up other people’s poop off the street, etc…
I am not claiming anything about Libertarians, only about Nozick’s specific work Anarchy, state and utopia, and the discussion by the PEL guys.
I’m not a libertarian nor a fan of Nozick so I can’t really comment on it other than asking why, if people are selfish and don’t want to pay for others or things they don’t personally benefit from, do virtually all voters consensually and knowingly vote for representatives who force the voters as individuals to pay for these things? (even for others and even for things they don’t personally benefit from)
I would very much like to present a coherent objection to some assumptions being made here. It’s very hard to know where to start, and maybe I’m not quite getting what is really being said. It seems fairly certain at least that the general tone of the conversations cited; Rothbard, Nozik etc, these are academic and gigantically misleading. Neither the universalizing of moralities not the conversation of functionalities can even remotely approach in theory the diversity and genuine motivations of actual living people. I’m probably not the guy to explain this or debate it, but I feel a need to say something about it. Please let me know if there’s anything to it, or if you need some alternative explanation.
I can see no value at all but that it impacts some real living person, in that case the negotiation of community can go uncountable ways, and change directions on a dime. So what is the value of thinking in terms of social theory, or of law? In practical terms it is how cultures distinguish themselves and how communities expel the unwanted. There is no right or wrong way to do this except that it achieves the border-strengthening and house-cleaning the actual living constituents desire. And therefore by and large what people say is right or wrong in a universal way is an excuse, often a lie, and really about some particular person or type of person. So the entire conversation here seems academic to me and misled. What the Libertarian must want most of all is a chance to form a genuine community between actual living people, it is only by noting that the nation state is everything but that – and opposed to that interest – that Libertarians arrive at the conclusion of less government. The same will be roughly true of Anarchists; not that relations are ungoverned, but that they are governed by natural impulse rather than externalizations like idealism and technology.
Hi Brian, I’m interested in hearing opposing views. This particular podcast and blog is directed at Nozick’s work, and not against Libertarianism as a whole, although Libertarians do take collateral damage in the discussion. If you listened to the podcast and/or read the readings, could you provide a defense for/against any of the specific points made by Nozick or the PEL guys? It very well may be overly academic, but that is kinda the theme of PEL. Your defense doesn’t have to be made in academic jargon, of course.
Yeah. I get that. I do not represent myself as political, or a Libertarian, so this is not an objection to some characterizations of political positions.
You posted while I was composing, and I think you touched on what I was after – there’s something about the notion that “a society, as an entity, cannot suffer injustice; only individuals can” that I wanted to emphasize. But the implications are far larger than expressed in the podcast or comments. There are practical considerations, I mean to say I see PEL as not connecting to the actual issue.
First let’s dismiss the notion that there’s anything like good or bad with respect to society. There’s no one there to harm or benefit – except that politics is a field of endeavor for individuals. In that case the question of what is moral or not cannot be answered finally. I think this has already been accepted, but then Nozik is situated against basically the entire world to which the nation state is an entity independent of its constituent parts – and its concerns come first. If anything like that was observed in the podcast I did not notice. My criticism comes with some reservations, but this is a pretty regular refrain in my mind listening to the podcasts – how come these bright interesting people don’t engage these matters directly? You could even call that pragmatism. I will say I did see some effort in this direction with the New Work / Bergmann piece, but here we are talking about gigantic and world threatening ignorance like it’s a book review… Maybe it’s just me…
I think you’re right that PEL does not address the implications of the topics they discuss–they are concerned with tossing around ideas, following the logic of arguments, and just trying to understand what the authors of the reviewed texts are saying. Mark Lisenmayer, the force behind PEL, is an advocate/activist? for New Work, so he does get more passionate about that topic and the need to change the work situation on this planet, but otherwise he tends away from ‘passionate’ debate–see his blog post ‘against debate’. I guess I come to PEL because of the intelligent and somewhat impartial discussion. It’s place with more thinking and less preaching.
I think if you look under the hood of that notion, that preaching is opposed to thinking, that academic review is preferable to personal reaction, you’ll find a vehicle with two trunks and no engine…
Thanks for another great episode. I like the episodes on political theory. I would hope that you cover a thinker or writer from the left-libertarian tradition, such as Chomsky. Chomsky and others like him have taken issue with the co-opting of the term “libertarian” from traditions that would be quite at odds with Nozick. Please consider discussing “On Anarchism” and clarify the definitions of anarchism and the attendant ideologies. Thanks as always!
I second a podcast on Chomsky, that would be interesting.
Wasting time on picking the correct definition (because that’s what I assume you mean by “clarifying definitions”) would be a waste of time though. There are multiple incompatible definitions and understandings of “anarchist”; none are more or less valid than the other, and why this is subject to such inflamed, incessant and pointless debate is beyong me. An anarchist could be any of the following
* someone who desires and/or creates chaos. (the common understanding of anarchist)
* someone who opposes “hierarchies”, including but not limited to state, economic and cultural ones. (the “traditional”, leftist understanding, Chomsky fits in here)
* someone who deisres the absence of a state, irrespective of any other prescriptive preferences. (this understanding accomodates anything from traditional anarchists to panarchists, anarchists without adjectives and anarcho-capitalists etc)
etc etc, you can go on forever.
Toby Keymer says
As a left-libertarian, I’d caution against reading Chomsky on this topic (thought a linguistics episode would be pretty awesome). Chomsky is a popularizer of anarchist theory, not an original theoretician in his own right, and he makes no pretensions to being one!
When you get round to doing a podcast on anarchism, I’d recommend Proudhon, Bakunin, or Kropotkin. Proudhon’s “What is Property?” would be a nice counterpoint to Rawls and Nozick, who both seems to me to take private property as a given.
yes, i would say one episode covering Proudhon, Kropotkin, Bookchin, Zerzan, and Goldman would be good. They are similar enough that they could easily be covered in one ep. I love Bakunins writing, but its not very “philosophical,” he’s more like a commentator than a serious thinker (not that Zerzan is a serious thinker either, but he has made a novel contribution to the body of anarchist philosophy).
That’s not quite right. If you stretch “anarchism” to include all that is betrays the history of the idea and movement. It is important to say that, traditionally speaking, the so-called “anarcho capitalists” are not anarchists. Anarchism has always been a deeply antiauthoritarian socialist movement. Many of them regarded the marxists as unacceptably authoritarian for instance, particularly when it comes to the issue of the state and how it would be used and dissolved.
“anarcho-capitalism” is a pretty new phenomenon now associated mostly with the american right wing. Even Murry Rothbard admitted to how the word “anarchist” was hijacked by them. They think anti-statism is sufficient for being an anarchist, but actual anarchists (sometimes call libertarian socialists) think that capitalistic relationships are hierarchical and authoritarian (think about boss v worker relationships or the general command economy structure internal to corporations) and therefore must be eliminated. Private property for the genuine anarchist is an incoherent idea and positively harmful institution. Insofar as the “anarcho capitalists” do not except this line of thinking they are patently not anarchists.This is not a semantic quarrel, it is substantive argument about policy. The name issue however is kind of like how stalinist regimes get called “communist” but have virtually nothing to do with it.
As a libertarian, I’ll admit it’s a bit uncomfortable for me to listen to this episode. It seems half the things said make no sense to me and there’s no one there to say “what the fuck are you talking about?” Still, I’m about 40 minutes in to listening and you seem fair and compelling so far. It helps that I’m not a big fan of Nozick though. I tried to read ASaU but I honestly didn’t understand half of it.
I second the suggestion that you read Michael Huemer’s The Problem of Political Authority. It’s the best case for libertarianism I’ve ever read. I think it also sheds a lot of light on why libertarians are libertarians. It has to do with us taking commonly held ethical intuitions and applying them to state actors instead of making unjustified exceptions for them.
Since it looks like you are currently touching on matters of economic rationality, it might be fun to do something on gifts and commodities or even on the formalist substantivist debate. The gift and commodity stuff goes back to Marx and Marcel Mauss’ Essai sur le don (1925), and has been elaborated on at great length (eg. Chris Gregory). It might give some good tools to talk about morality and economy if you are headed there.
Kenneth Presting says
(I was planning to add one more comment to this thread, but I took a few days’ vacation. Meanwhile, a related thread popped up elsewhere, and I decided to put it there instead.
The basic idea is that Nozick didn’t just fail to argue for his essential premise, that no sequence of “free” exchanges will ever lead from a just distribution to an unjust one. I show that unfairly constrained choices are commonplace and therefore Nozick’s assumption is false, not just unproven.)
Hopefully this ep will be the gateway into a serious episode on anarchism. Libertarianism, in my view, is the most disingenious “philosphy,” propagated by pseudo-intellectual charlatans. Hayeck and Von Mises, maybe, were genuine, but they were short-sighted reactionaries whose thoughts deserve no more credit than a glance when studying the dictatorships and econmoies of the first half of the 20th century in Europe.
Nate Blair says
“This proviso leads to a problem: if more and more people are appropriating pieces of land, the amount of unowned land will decrease. If simultaneously population is increasing, there will be at some time not enough land for some people. In Anarchy, State and Utopia (ASU) American philosopher Robert Nozick argued that because of this all previous appropriations are unjust. In order to solve this problem Nozick proposes a weaker version of the Lockean proviso (Nozick 1974: p.176-177).
“However, this weaker proviso is still problematic and is also unnecessary. Earlier in ASU Nozick introduced his principle of compensation: if someone is violating your rights, then you are, according to Nozick, entitled to compensation by that person (Nozick 1974: p.78-84). If under the original Lockean proviso the appropriation of all lands is unjust, then the landholders are obliged, in Nozick’s theory, to pay compensation to the landless. Since there is no one-to-one relation between any particular landholder and landless person, it’s up to government to collect this compensation and to distribute to those whom are entitled to it.”
Steven Frattali says
Speaking of Chomsky, what about the philosophical implications/aspects of his linguistics?
Michael deCamp says
I know I’m really late to this party but the Multi-billionaire’s ‘original position’ is too secure now as the police have tanks. Betting against an uprising is superfluous.
Part way listening through the podcast Metcalf I believe (who wrote a deeply problematic hit piece on Nozick – see Julian Sanchez’s discussion of such – Sanchez was a student of Nozick) makes the claim that somehow voluntary capitalist transactions have not been forbidden by welfare states. As the growing plethora of licensure laws illustrate, that’s nonsense on stilts. When Germany bans Uber, is that not forbidding such? The Institute for Justice fights a whole litany of cases where state entities attempt to ban all manner of voluntary capitalist transactions – from food trucks to licensed doctors trying to do telemedicine.
I think what you mean that it is not forbidding transactions that you approve of. But the notion that these welfare states don’t is so directly contrary to reality it I think it illustrates your divorce from such at least in this regards.
I don’t really understand how the veil of ignorance is a useful way to think about what kind of society you would want to live in. Re: 5 Robinson crusoes and the distribution of coconuts. Why would a person automatically choose for redistribution because their island has less coconuts. Maybe the Crusoe would be less motivated to pick coconuts for other people since he will not be benefiting from it. Maybe the guy with less coconuts has more fresh water. Maybe he trades with the guy with more coconuts and they are both better off.
A couple of possibilities:
1. Some economic knowledge might be needed to evaluate what kind of society you would want to live in.
2 most people aren’t going to be able to think of the secondary or unintended consequences to structuring a society a certain way.
Charles Crawford says
“Nozick’s ethical argument has a problem which is shared by many market-oriented philosophies. Processes which are free or voluntary on a small scale of individual transactions can lead to where large numbers of people are in very bad places”
That’s from a comment above.
Another problem belongs to social-oriented philosophies: that state-imposed processes proclaimed to be fair or just on a small or large social scale can lead to where large numbers of people are in very bad places. Viz communism (passim) or the omnishambles that is now Venezuela, where the ruling elite staggers on through ever-increasing violence against its own people in the name of socialism.
This episode was unusually disappointing.
It reasonably sniped away at the logic of the ‘bare’ Nozick position such as his idea that decontextualised acts of individual ‘unfairness’ such as taking away someone’s property for the sake of ‘redistributive (sic) justice (sic)’ can’t be fair when done at a macro-level.
But it then quite failed to address the not unrelated point that solutions based on collective community majoritarian decisions also may be unjust if not insane.
There is some sort of continuum between the abstract or unrealistic ideas of drastic Nozick-like minimalist government and the all-too-real communist gulags and C20 mass murders in USSR, China, Cambodia and so on.
Surely there is a point even in a supposedly democratic society where the community demands that a majority might put on a minority or an individual in the name of ‘justice’ are confiscatory and oppressive and a priori unjust?
Likewise what is the philosophical limit for respect for others? What is the moral basis for the proposition X ought to support Y and give X’s hard-earned resources to to Y regardless of how Y behaves? If there is a limit to X’s moral obligation here, who gets to decide where it is? X or Y or ‘society’?