Anarchy, State, and Utopia [Book Review]

Review of Metaphysics 30 (1):134-135 (1976)

Perhaps no work since John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice has attracted as much recent attention as Robert Nozick’s case for a minimal state—an ingeniously argued critique, not only of antinomian individualism, but also of liberal and socialist contractualism. It might be added that the book is no solace either to more conservative political theorists, who lament state incursion into private life, but whose political structures exhibit either actual or potential constriction of human life. Nozick’s book is both a searching examination of the limitations of utilitarian consequentialism and the redistributivism of Rawls. His essential theme is that "a minimal state limited to the narrow functions of protection against force, theft, fraud, enforcement of contracts etc., is justified; that any more extensive state will violate persons’ rights not to be forced to do certain things, and is unjustified; and that the minimal state is inspiring as well as right." It is also Nozick’s contention that the coercive power of the state should not be used paternalistically to prohibit activities to people for their own protection, or to force some citizens to aid others. The last part of the book is a framework for Nozick’s utopia, and it is in this section that an essentially theoretical approach, amplified by little political or sociological data, exhibits its defects. One suspects that almost all states started with simplistic hopes for minimal coercive activity, and succumbed almost inevitably to the metastasis of function as socio-political life grew in size and complexity. Night watchmen become more than night watchmen when more than watching is needed. Moreover, Nozick’s utopia would seem to necessitate, at least by implication, coercive redistributivism and some kind of compensatory or levelling taxation process. This reviewer is not sure that he understands precisely what Nozick considers correct property theory in a state of nature. The author modestly asserts the tentative, incomplete, and conjectural nature of his work. But the taxed and manipulated citizen who grows in sympathy for the sentiments of Proudhon’s famous litany should welcome this highly literate and well argued case.—R.P.M.
Keywords Catholic Tradition  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0034-6632
DOI revmetaph1976301129
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