Anarchy, state and utopia

by Robert Nozick

Paper Book, 1995



Call number

CI 6515 A533



Oxford [u.a.] Blackwell 1995


In this brilliant and widely acclaimed book, winner of the 1975 National Book Award, Robert Nozick challenges the most commonly held political and social positions of our age--liberal, socialist, and conservative.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jpsnow
This is an extremely heavy piece of libertarian political philosophy. Nozick proves through moral logic (including plenty of propositions and equations) that the minimal libertarian state is the single desirable and natural end-state, that anything beyond that is immoral, and that the only utopian
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option suitable for diverse mankind, is only possible based on this state. His work includes many of the arguments I've considered over the years (the possibiliy of private owners trapping someone by surrounding them; the implications taught in micro about compensating someone for their cost, while not realizing that provides additional indifference curve options). We tax someone's earnings, but not their leisure. The first part of this book, proving the minimalist state, is painstaking but rational. The second is about the implications of the state and arguments for expanded powers beyond minimalist (especially Rawl's theory of Justice). The final short section shows the absurdity of any utopian vision that doesn't consider differences in people. One of my favorite sections of the book (p.290-292), he shows 9 gradations between slavery and pure democracy and asks the reader where slavery ends. It's worth reading, though not an easy read.
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
This is a work of political philosophy arguing for minimal government, the libertarian counterpart and answer to the liberal John Rawls' A Theory of Justice. This is as far from a popular treatment of the subject (such as say Ayn Rand or the like) as you can get. In other words, yes, this is the
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work of a professional academic, a Harvard professor of philosophy who wrote the kind of rigorous book used in graduate studies--it even won the National Book Award. It's respectable. But dear God, it made my head hurt. I've decided that now that I'm FREE, FREE, FREE of higher educational study, I can give myself permission not to like this book--despite being sympathetic to its conclusions. It was impenetrable, made far, far too much use of the question mark, and sported passages such as this on page 63:

One may, in defending oneself, draw against the punishment the attacker deserves (which is r X H). So the upper limit of what one may use in self-defense against a doer of harm H is f(H) + r X H. When an amount A in addition to f(H) is expended in self-defense, the punishment which later may be inflicted is reduced by that amount and becomes r X H - A. When r = o, f(H) + r X H reduces to f(H). Finally, there will be some specification of a rule of necessity which requires one not to use more in self-defense than is necessary to repel the attack. If what is necessary is more than f(H) + r X H, there will be a duty to retreat.

It may be once upon a time I could understand this with ease, even stay awake. (And yes, reading this over a few times in isolation, I do get more than a glimmer, but it's not as if the 300 plus pages this goes with is much more engaging.) Hey, I was a political science major and I took a course in (even did well in) symbolic logic. But I guess it takes less than a decade after graduating from university to turn your brain back to mush. This may be a powerful argument for the best form of government. But if one star on Goodreads means "I don't like it," than that's the rating it must get. And believe me, I did want to like this book. But don't mind me, I didn't get Einstein's Theory of Relativity either.
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LibraryThing member MashaK99
OK, this is a philosophy book, so not light reading by any means, but a great intro to philosophical underpinnings of libertarianism. If you can't force yourself to get through Locke's Second Treatise, this is a good alternative as it touches on the basics and goes further. The last chapter is most
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intriguing, with the author attempting to prove that the "minimal state" in not only philosophically a sound concept, but also would qualify under the definition of utopia.
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LibraryThing member brleach
Nozick so fundamentally misreads Rawls that the majority of this book is worthless as a result. He makes two grievous errors: (1) he entirely ignores the first principle, which results in his failure to realize that fundamental individual rights and liberties are prior to the second principle (2)
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he reads the second principle as "maximizing the share of the least advantaged" instead of "once fair equality of opportunity is ensured, remaining inequalities should function as part of a scheme that benefits everyone, where benefiting everyone is measured by the most demanding standard of benefiting the least advantaged." He also makes a number of other errors that are just as fatal to his argument, for instance, reading Rawls as presenting a "patterned" theory rather than a theory of pure procedural justice. He misses the point of the heuristic of the original position. He assumes Rawls is opposed to any inequalities when the purpose of the second principle is precisely to explain how inequalities can be justified.

Nozick's own theory is also full of holes. For example, he does not explore rectification, which by his own admission is a critical precursor to any society based on his entitlement theory, since no existing society can claim all property is held according to Nozick's principles of justice in holdings. He relies heavily on a barely reconstructed Lockean conception of property without answering any of the objections to Locke. He assumes without argumentative justification that market efficiency is just. To his credit, Nozick admits some of these missing pieces throughout the book. However, there is simply not enough left over to present a persuasive justification of anything.

That said, this book IS useful as a foil for understanding Rawls better! Also, the descriptions of the way a state would come about in a state of nature through a market system in the beginning of the book is an interesting answer to anarchism.

P.S. You might get the impression that I agree with Rawls, based on this review. In fact, I do not agree with very much of what Rawls said. I just object to mischaracterizing his position so grotesquely. It's unfortunate that Nozick missed the opportunity to take down the original position as an analytic method and defend a contextual/historical conception of justice.
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LibraryThing member johnygoodman
Many men of the left, myself included, have just as much admiration of this book as the average libertarian - we just think that its arguments are wrong. Nozick was a brilliant, imaginative and convincing philosopher, and in this book some of his most famous and long-lasting thought experiments
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appear: the utility monster, the experience machine, and the Wilt Chamberlain argument. Throughout the book his writing is consistently enjoyable (unlike Rawls) and thought provoking. His arguments for the minimal state are thoroughly flawed and have been utterly refuted (because they are incorrect, not because philosophers are biased to the left), and cannot be wholly accepted as part of the modern philosophical dialogue - but at least they satisfy our demands for interest, enjoyment and education, if not the demands of reason.
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LibraryThing member cestovatela
Robert Nozick's famed defense of libertarianism. Argues for a society governed by rules of the free market in which no one is compelled to do anything against his will. Explanations are clear and this is engagingly written, but it definitely helps to have background in philosophy first.
LibraryThing member MathMaverick
Amazing book! Nozick's range of knowledge is amazing. He shows that a minimal state is reasonable (very well done and easy to follows). Similarly, he shows that a more advanced state does not reasonable follow. Utopia is another issues altogether and his writing certainly got me rethinking. A great
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book to make you think, reason and conclude.
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LibraryThing member drbrand
The minimal state treats us as inviolate individuals, who may not be used in certain ways by others as means or tools or instruments or resources; it treats us as persons having individual rights with the dignity this constitutes. Treating us with respect by respecting our rights, it allows us,
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individually or with whom we choose, to choose our life and to realize our ends and our conception of ourselves, insofar as we can, aided by the voluntary cooperation of other individuals possessing the same dignity.

While the book is rife with interesting and challenging theories that deserve careful consideration, it also suffers from Nozick's frustratingly abstruse writing style. Some of the arguments are marred by digressions, odd footnoting, and confusing formalizations. There were times when I wanted to throw the book against the wall, but I have to admit that I find myself thinking about the ideas it raised quite often.
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LibraryThing member Paul_S
Very thoroughly elucidates the internal contradictions and general impossibility of anarchy and libertarianism. The style is atrocious and the structure very meandering but its still worth suffering through the waffling.



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