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Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia” Essay

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Updated: Jan 7th, 2022

Scholars and thinkers of repute in the fields of philosophy, political science, and history during the ancient, classical, and contemporary epochs of learning have put forward theories that attempt to explain the origins, necessity, and functions of the state. Some have supported the need to have an absolute sovereign government or state that serves as a custodian of people’s power while others have argued in support of anarchy or a minimal state like Robert Nozick in his 1974 masterpiece titled “Anarchy, State and Utopia”. They have also theorized on various aspects of society like justice, legitimacy, human rights among others. This task is a summary of Robert Nozick’s chapter seven in the above-mentioned book.

Robert Nozick’s Idea of State

The state and its legitimacy are one of the main themes in Robert Nozick’s book. According to Valentyne, Nozick holds that it is not possible to have a legitimate state especially one that enjoys absolute legitimacy (86). Therefore, Nozick proposes the replacement of the present state with a minimal state which safeguards people only against violence, theft, fraud, and violation of contract Valentyne (86). Nozick’s sense of state is that of a coercive organization that for a given territory has effectual domination on the use of weapons to enforce its will and interests Valentyne (87).

Robert Nozick’s Critique of Rawl’s Distributive Justice

In chapter seven Nozick provides an articulate critique upon Rawl’s theory of distributive justice (150). Distributive justice deals with fair allocation of resources on the basis of ethical and moral principles of the society (275). It proposes the allocation of opportunities and wealth on the basis of merits and moral obligations. So that in the long run, each member of the society gets what is entitled to him or her Rawl (275).

Valentyne argues that Nozick holds a libertarian theory of justice as opposed to Rawl’s distributive theory of justice (88).Despite his deviation from Rawl’s distributive theory of justice; Nozick believes that sound adult humans have certain undeniable rights including a right to bodily honor which makes illegal murdering, persecuting, or hurting the holder of the right Valentyne (88).

Nozick’s theory of justice holds that an action is just if it does not violate other people’s libertarian rights. The libertarian rights according to Nozick are original absolute self-ownership, rights of a common use of the external world, rights of primary acquisition. While on the one hand, Rawl understands justice based on distributive shares based on moral obligations, Nozick proposes a theory of justice based on libertarian rights enumerated above. For him, an action is just if it doesn’t violate another’s libertarian rights as opposed to Rawl’s theory of justice which is based on merits and moral obligations in determining what an individual is entitled to and what is fair in eyes of the ordinary man in the street.

According to Nozick the role of the minimal state is limited to safeguarding the libertarian rights of the individual citizens against theft, torture, and maiming. Otherwise, the individuals will still retain some right of self-defending their libertarian rights. However, it is important to note that Nozick holds to the fundamental principles despite his dismissal of Rawl’s distributive theory.

Works Cited

Nozick, Robert. Anarchy, state, and utopia. New York: University of Michigan, 2010.Print.

Rawls, John. A theory of justice. London: Harvard University Press, 1999.Print.

Vallentyne, Peter. The Twentieth Century: Quine and After. Central Works of Philosophy. Vol. 5, 2006, 86-103.

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