Robert Nozick, “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” (1974) – Yeah, ok, other than eventually getting to von Mises, I’m done trying to read these libertarian hacks for the time being. I read right-wing writing (Nozick would probably object to the classification but fuck him) for a number of reasons: the “know your enemy” thing, the ways in which their writings can illuminate certain historical dynamics, the insights they sometimes contain, sometimes they just turn out to be enjoyable. I suppose the closest Nozick gets to any of those is the “historical dynamic” bit. Namely, between him and Rothbard and, one gets the feeling, many of their liberal interlocutors as the midcentury Consensus era cracked up and we enter the hungover last third of the twentieth century, you get a general impression that a white guy with a degree could just say anything, any words out of his mouth, and get a publishing deal, tenure, and loads and loads of attention.
Because that’s all any of this is. It doesn’t help that it’s technically “analytical” philosophy. At its best, analytical philosophy tries to get to the root of truth as rigorously as possible. I don’t get a lot out of it, even at its best, but I get what they’re trying to do. But applying it to politics is a dicey proposition, and when a hack trying to leap over his old friend (who also did analytical political philosophy) to make a plutocrat-friendly version of objective political truth… just no. Nozick was friends with liberal godfather John Rawls and wrote “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” specifically to counter Rawls’s “A Theory of Justice.” I don’t know if they exactly became blood enemies as a consequence — neither seems like the kind, and also apparently white middle class people just thought personal betrayal was cool in the seventies? — but there it is.
“Anarchy, State, and Utopia” isn’t even an especially elegant construction (Rawls, no prose artist, has his old pal beat by miles there). The closest thing to a through line is the Lockean state of nature. “Let’s just do that again!” Nozick insists. There’s a bit more to it- he opposes the state of nature to Rawls’s “original position,” where if you don’t know how you’re going to be born, you’d prefer to be born into a society that is relatively just, equal, and humane. But what of our RIGHTS, Nozick insists, specifically our property rights, that Locke somehow divined from… somewhere? The state of nature stuff was fatuous enough when it was happening, between Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, whichever other cosseted Enlightenment guy dreaming up the natural man in his cozy study. How is anyone going to do that post-Darwin? How is anyone going to look at nature and be like “yeah, there’s a human-based normative order here, let’s just do that!”
(And don’t at me about indigenous societies or social darwinism. Indigenous societies often managed (still do manage, where colonial capitalism hasn’t dispossessed them) natural resources very well (not exactly batting a thousand but pretty good), but my understanding is that most of them, pre-contact anyway, didn’t understand “nature” as separate from their societies in the Enlightenment/romantic way Europeans came to do. And social darwinists romanticize nature as much as anyone. They just do it in a nasty, adolescent boy way. They look for norms that aren’t there, too.)
Nozick also tries to dispense with Marx by smugly proving that Marx and Marxists understand value via market valuations- a granddaddy of the “you criticize capitalism yet you buy products, interesting” gambit. What kind of an own is that? For one, it completely ignores the concepts of use value and exchange value, which should not be obscure to someone taking on this subject in the seventies, it’s not some “young Marx” marginalia, it’s right there in Capital. For another… so what? The idea isn’t that markets are always wrong informationally, or even necessarily morally/existentially. The idea is that it’s a rigged fucking game because of historical structures and always will be until those structures are overthrown. Somehow Nozick bridges this into “proving” that workers aren’t exploited by their employers profit-taking? Fuck knows. Fuck this. It’s one of “The Sopranos” better jokes that they have a lame snitch reading this book. *