Robert Nozick (1938-2002)
- American philosopher and professor who almost single-handedly made modern libertarian thinking acceptable.
- In 1974, he wrote, Anarchy, State, and Utopia
- “…no moral balancing act can take place among us; there is no moral outweighing of one of our lives by others so as to lead to a greater overall social good. There is no justified sacrifice of some of us for others.” (Anarchy, State and Utopia, pg. 33)
On Justice (Or Why he Thought Rawls was an Idiot)
Three Major Ideas
In his book Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?, Harvard Professor Michael Sandel idenitifes three core beliefs held by Nozick:
- No Paternalism. Libertarians oppose laws to protect people from harming themselves. Seatbelt laws are a good example; so are motorcycle helmet laws. Even if riding a motorcycle without a helmet is reckless, and even if helmet laws save lives and prevent devastating injuries, libertarians argue that such laws violate the right of the individual to decide what risks to assume.
- No Morals Legislation. Libertarians oppose using the coercive force of law to promote notions of virtue or to express the moral convictions of the majority. Prostitution may be morally objectionable to many people, but that does not justify laws that prevent consenting adults from engaging in it. Majorities in some communities may disapprove of homosexuality, but that does not justify laws that deprive gay men and lesbians of the right to choose their sexual partners for themselves.
- No Redistribution of Income or Wealth. The libertarian theory of rights rules out any law that requires some people to help others,including taxation for redistribution of wealth. Desirable though it may be for the affluent to support the less fortunate—by subsidizing their health care or housing or education—such help should be left up to the individual to undertake, not mandated by the government. According to the libertarian, redistributive taxes are a form of coercion, even theft.
No Presumption of Equality
The Natural Lottery is Not Unjust
Equal Opportunity is Not a Right
Redistributive Action by the Government is Unjust
- According to Nozick, taxation is equivalent to forced labor. Taking a proportion of earnings is like making a person work a proportion of his working time for another’s purposes. It is unjust to force a person to work for another’s benefit.