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Nozick and the minimal state - what should the state do?

Posted on 2014-09-06
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I'm trying to understand the ideas of Robert Nozick as expounded in his book "Anarchy, State and Utopia".

Is there anyone there who believes in a minimal state? If so could you tell me what the minimal state should do? As I understand it, the role of the state for Nozick is basically to act as a arbiter in disputes between individuals - but then I think it is also supposed to defend the state from external attack - is that basically it? Have I missed something important? Is there basically a body who makes the laws, a body who enforces the laws and a body who defends the state from attack?

How does Nozick stop the state from getting too powerful and turning from an instrument of the people into an oppressive force separate from the people?
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Question by:purplesoup
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by:SunBow
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1. Is there anyone there who believes in a minimal state?


You mean outside of Lounge? Perhaps the more radical of Libertarian or Tea Partiers or Nazi or white supremist. Outside of here the more radical of Al-Quida & ISIL.

2. If so could you tell me what the minimal state should do?


Cannot. Some main points not addressed: automation, education, technology, transportation.

3. Basically Arbiter Defender?

 role of the state for Nozick is basically to act as a arbiter in disputes between individuals - but then I think it is also supposed to defend the state from external attack - is that basically it?

Seems that way.

Nozick argues that only a minimal state "limited to the narrow functions of protection against force, theft, fraud, enforcement of contracts, and so on"

4. Have I missed something important?


Not really. Maybe taxation, later on as "  personal freedom can sometimes only be fully actualized via a collectivist politics and that wealth is at times justly redistributed via taxation to protect the freedom of the many from the potential tyranny of an overly selfish and powerful few. Nozick suggests that citizens opposed to wealth redistribution that funds programs they object to should be able to opt out by supporting alternative government approved charities with an added 5% surcharge"

5. How does Nozick stop the state from getting too powerful and turning from an instrument of the people into an oppressive force separate from the people?

Doesn't.

" For Nozick, a distribution of goods is just if brought about by free exchange among consenting adults from a just starting position, even if large inequalities subsequently emerge from the process. "

"He rejected the notion of inalienable rights"

Noting: "For Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) Nozick received a National Book Award in category Philosophy and Religion"

As in, philosophy, not politics.

[Note: responses due to, quotes from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Nozick Part of a series on Libertarianism ]
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by:purplesoup
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Sorry for the delay - good answers, although I'm reading Mill on "Liberty" and he says it is always best to hear the argument from someone who believes in it, but it was good to have some of my initial observations confirmed anyway.

I didn't know about the tax suggestion - sounds interesting, I know some people don't want their taxes to go to the military, so having the option to divert them but with a surcharge is worth some discussion I would think.

I've just got Anarchy, State and Utopia out of the library (somewhat ironic?) so I'll have a look through - Nozick seems a pretty interesting guy, he didn't stick with political philosophy but moved on to other areas of philosophy and always admitted there were weaknesses in some of his arguments.

Thanks for the response - I'll leave this open a bit longer as it would be good to hear from someone who actually believed in the minimal state, as per your comment I'd like to hear how they deal with autonomy, education, technology, transport - basically the essential infrastructure that the economy relies on to function.
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by:tliotta
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Far too many elements are ignored, unless we're talking about some way to impose 'minimalist governments' in essentially every part of the world. And if that happened in, say, twenty years from now after some degree of preparation, it'd soon result in massive famines, plagues, you name it. I suspect that the majority would die in the subsequent decade.

I live on the west side of Puget Sound, across the Tacoma Narrows bridge(s) from Tacoma and a ways into a forested area. The bridge allows a highway that serves the whole Puget peninsula, and other areas south and west, to connect with Tacoma and to Interstate 5 for Seattle and everywhere else.

Now, which "individuals" could supply the bridge? The highway? Interstate 5?

Personally, I voted against the bridge project. Under a 'minimalist government', how would my relationship with bridge/highway builders change? What courts or law enforcement agencies would enforce any relationship?

Almost any current aspect of government could be questioned in a similar way. Some elements are likely to yield positive results, but I'd expect that it won't be a zero-sum result in total. Far too many critical parts of modern society simply cannot fit in any 'individual to individual' framework. Banking? The CDC? Industrial development? Water rights? Toxic dumping? Rights-of-way? Communications networks? Airport expansions? Imports of strategic rare-earth metals?

McChord AFB is a bit south-west from here. Sea-Tac Int'l is a bit north-west, as is Paine Field and Boeing field. Tacoma Airport is due south. As mentioned, Bremerton NAS is a few miles north. Many small airports are all around. That's all apart from the bunches of Chinooks from Fort Lewis that regularly fly training missions around the region and any number of private helicopters that scoot by. Who is in charge of the airspace above me? It gets pretty noisy at times and can even seem too busy when a series of C-17 Globemasters are leaving McChord to supply some far off mission over a couple days and other craft are trying to keep normal schedules.

Maybe unfortunately, we're living in the future. It's no longer 1914, but rather 2014. Things are complicated just keeping most of us alive. I don't see much hope for 'minimalist government' unless we can cut world population by maybe 75-80%. (And that means many/most of us reading this wouldn't be part of it.)

Tom
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by:purplesoup
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Thanks Tom - I'd forgotten this was still open!

Good thoughts - I agree with what you say, I'm not sure regulation and administration can/should be run for a profit and would be better run by the government, or at least through a democratic mandate.

I also wonder if there isn't room for more democracy within businesses, which are still essentially run on a feudal model.

While Occupy discussed what options we have for changing the world for the better, the actual government/Congress/Senate appears to be trying to run the present system as badly as possible. Surely something has got to give soon?
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by:tliotta
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Assuming the U.S.A. -- It's hard to be efficient when the jurisdiction covers many timezones, and when geographic regions have radically different climates, and when regions have such different resources, and... and...

Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Dallas, Miami, Denver, major metropolitan areas in radically different States pull in different directions. Florida doesn't have water needs like California can have. Colorado doesn't have the same agricultural advantages that California and Florida can have. Pennsylvania and Illinois have little in common with Texas.

Each state could find it hard to survive in the modern world without all (or at least 'most') of the other states. While various improvements in efficiency are almost certainly possible, I suspect that all of the various influences will keep things fairly mixed for a long time to come.

Maybe the biggest problem is simply trying to zero in on what specifically is "inefficient". For example, there are constant, regular complaints about "red tape", excessive paperwork, too many records and files, etc. However, in essentially every case, each given piece of paper or record was created due to demands from taxpayers to track every last penny and to document every tiniest action by government officials, employees and contractors.  Such demands arose because every official and every employee and every contractor is human. In some cases, they are dishonest humans or power-hungry humans who would abuse positions of trust. Abuses have happened from the beginning, and laws and regulations were created in response to those abuses in order to prevent future ones.

The fundamental reason for all of it, of course, is the choices made by voters in electing representatives. If we could change that, we might have a chance at improving efficiencies. But is the world bad enough in the daily lives of most of us to do what that would take and to risk the upheavals that would necessarily result? Or is life only just a  bit irritating for most of us and not really so bad after all?

Tom
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by:ScottPletcher
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I'm not quite as libertarian as Nozick, but close.  The smaller the state, the more individual freedom every person in that state has.  The U.S., where I am, for example, has degenerated into a police state.

I still believe in health-related restrictions on businesses and other entities, including govt entities themselves.  Many parts of our current govt exclude themselves from safety laws!  In fact even if not in theory, as they have "sovereign immunity" and can't be sued to force them to comply.  So they just ignore the raw law that does actually apply to them.

Income tax should be made unconstitutional again, as it was originally.  A federal "sales" tax -- known as the "Fair Tax" -- should replace all other taxes.

As for govt run amok, look at the VA, the IRS, and the State Department.  They're all arrogantly violating the law, covering it up, and giving themselves more money in process!
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by:purplesoup
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Fair points Scott and it does seem extraordinary how the breakdowns in at least some of the state processes appear obvious to anyone who looks, but

(  a ) they don't seem obvious to many representatives who seem genuinely puzzled when people ask them why the state institutions aren't working and why isn't something being done about it

( b ) many electors appear much too easily swayed into voting for things which if they thought about it either aren't actually that much of a concern to them, or they may even be voting against their own interests - and this also because there isn't enough reasoned debate about policy and way too much name calling and mud slinging.

However with regards to a small state, I'm not convinced that the smaller the state the more freedom we have - there two problems here.

First some try to equate economic freedoms - little or no regulation of business - with political freedoms, but the two aren't the same at all - look at Pinochet.

Second plenty of western democracies have "big" states, but they also have a lot of political freedoms and in a number of cases more rights for citizens than in countries with smaller states.

I wonder if the reason why we are getting problems "modernising" Arab countries is because they are trying to go with a small state model. Japan modernised in a remarkably small time period - going from Feudal economy to military power able to defeat Russia in about 40 years, and this was due to a strong role for the government (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meiji_period#Economy ).
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The Wikipedia article on Nozick puts his positions rather good I think - trying to remember him from the seventies. But like most political philosophers he thinks technically instread of emotionally, because the accepted political phiosophy and hence the form it takes in society is not based on logic but concensus. And consenus amongst many is not logical. Piet hein once said : "True wisdom must comprise some nonsense as a compromise least fools should fail to find it wise".

Japan did not "modernise" because it was a "small state model" but because the emperor said so. The consensus was that the he knew best and they accepted his wishes.

States will collapse when the consensus is against the political or ruling elite. History has shown that time after time. And when they reemerge the form taken is again something which the consensus accepts. Dictatotrs are quite often initially accepted simplye because they have accepted the changes in society. Of couse they then don't accept the natural changes that will then occur and you end up with plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
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by:SunBow
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8<))
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by:purplesoup
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Thanks for all your answers - much appreciated.
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