The Lockean natural rights tradition—including its libertarian branch-- is a work in progress.1 Thirty years after the publication of Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Robert Nozick’s classic work of political theory is still regarded by academic philosophers as the authoritative statement of right-wing libertarian Lockeanism in the Ayn Rand mold.2 Despite the classic status of this great book, its tone is not at all magisterial, but improvisational, quirky, tentative, and exploratory. Its author has more questions than answers. On some central foundational questions he refrains from taking a stand. There is spadework yet to be done on the project of developing the most plausible versions of Lockean and Lockean libertarian views. Prior to doing this work, and articulating the sensible alternatives and what can be said for and against them, we are not yet in a position reasonably to opt for any particular version of Lockean theory or for that matter to decide between the natural rights tradition and rival consequentialisms. This essay aims to explore hard and soft versions of Lockean theory. The exploration aims to persuade the reader to favor the soft versions. Section I formulates four claims (all asserted by Nozick) and provisionally identifies the Lockean libertarian view with these claims. Section II notes that although Nozick in his 1974 book made scant progress toward providing a justification of his particular doctrine of rights, compared to rivals, no rights theorist since then has made significant advances on that front, so Nozick’s achievement has not been superseded. Nozick’s view of rights as side constraints is rehearsed. Sections III and IV raise a question that Nozick first posed: Should rights be regarded as specifying ways individuals may not be treated, infringement of which is sometimes, or always, or never morally acceptable provided full compensation is paid to any victims? Hard libertarianism is defined as a version of Lockean libertarianism that replies “Never!” to this question along with offering strict interpretation and uncompromising affirmation of the four provisional claims detailed in Section I..



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Richard J. Arneson
University of California, San Diego

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