Consent theory for libertarians

Social Philosophy and Policy 22 (1):330-356 (2005)
This paper argues that libertarian political philosophers, including Robert Nozick, have erred in neglecting the problem of political obligation and that they ought to embrace an actual consent theory of political obligation and state legitimacy. It argues as well that if they followed this recommendation, their position on the subject would be correct. I identify the tension in libertarian (and especially Nozick's) thought between its minimalist and its consensualist strains and argue that, on libertarianism's own terms, the consensualist strain ought to prevail. I then describe the form of the consent theory that I recommend to libertarians. The paper concludes with an extended defense of this form of consent theory against contemporary liberal-egalitarian criticisms of it (both explicit and implicit), including those of Dworkin, Rawls, and their followers. Footnotesa Earlier versions of this essay were presented at the University of Michigan, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Brown University. For their lively discussions and helpful suggestions for the improvement of this essay, I am grateful to those audiences and to my fellow contributors to this volume. And for their careful reading and comments, I thank the editors of Social Philosophy and Policy.
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