Context

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 244

Robert Nozick claims to have written Anarchy, State, and Utopia by accident, during a year spent at the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University (1971-1972). He is almost boastful about the fact that the vast majority of his writings and attention focused on other subjects. Several years earlier, Harvard’s John Rawls had published a landmark study, A Theory of Justice (1971), which set up the foundation for a distributive state, a type of welfare state antithetical to the type of minimal state Nozick conceptualized. Rawls’s work became a handbook for liberalism and for advocates of the welfare state, and it was held up by humanitarians for making provisions for the least advantaged groups in society.

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Rawls and Nozick published their studies at a time when the Vietnam War and the Watergate affair were producing serious disillusionment about the ends and means of the political system that had developed in the United States. The time was ripe for a raging debate in political philosophy. Nozick himself reminisced about the excitement produced in the 1950’s by C. Wright Mills’s The Power Elite (1956); the mid-1970’s seemed similar. Nozick, however, refused to respond to the avalanche of critical literature about his work or to be bound to the specialty of political philosophy. He moved on to other areas of philosophy, but his first book-length work, his most controversial, remained central to the debate in political philosophy for the next quarter century.

Basic Human Rights

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 311

Nozick admits that his study does not reflect the slow process by which his earlier socialist views were slowly chipped away by libertarian beliefs. He begins the work with the dramatic assertion that individuals have rights upon which others, including the state, cannot infringe. Clearly, he is heavily influenced by John Locke’s concept of the social contract; unlike Locke, however, he refuses to trace the origins of these rights to a divine power. Although he leaves the origins of human rights for some other study at some other time, he sees these moral rights as written in stone. Also in variance with Locke, Nozick wants a new social contract to stop at some level below that of the state. In this, Nozick is extremely radical; he is attacking a concept taken for granted in the United States for at least the past two centuries. Nozick also is heavily influenced by philosopher Immanuel Kant’s idea of the categorical imperative and political view that the individual is an end, not a means to an end. Nozick also resurrects a basic eighteenth century notion of government, namely, that the government is best that governs least.

After examining why a state of anarchy would not be conducive to happiness, Nozick concludes that at least a minimal state is necessary to enforce basic moral prohibitions. Although he respects the utilitarian concept of happiness, he is diametrically opposed to the concept that such happiness can be computed mathematically within a mass society. He concludes that utilitarians would violate a great number of individual rights in service of the abstract notion of the greater happiness of the whole. In part 1 of his three-part study, titled “State of Nature Theory, or How to Back into a State Without Really Trying,” he uses philosophical exposition to justify the minimal state and describe how it is to come about.

Mutual Protection Societies

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 277

For Nozick, the key to unobtrusive government is the formation of mutual protection societies, composed of individual clients, that would subsume many functions of the state. These...

(The entire section contains 2184 words.)

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