Nozick – Dominant Protective Association

Although Nozick is often read as a rejection of Rawls’ socialism, Nozick is explicitly defending against anarcho-capitalism. The anarcho-capitalist (a.k.a. ‘anarchist on the right’) rejects any government that oppresses the individual’s rights. Kant spoke of humans as having a right to be treated as an end, and never as a means to an end. Anytime a government redistributes one’s property for the sake of equality, the general welfare, or the general will, the government is using some of its citizens as a means to an end.

The anarchist prefers Locke’s state of nature, and rejects the idea that a government is better than the state of nature. In Locke’s state of nature we can get along most of the time. When we run into conflict the natural law says that we are permitted to seek retribution from the one who trespassed against us. The concern is that we often don’t feel like the retribution is enough to compensate for our pain and suffering. This presumed inequity can lead to constant war, fear, and distrust of our neighbors. The anarchist argues that constant war, fear, and distrust will be less dangerous than it sounds, and is better than the state’s constant coercion.

Nozick recognizes that this gets complicated, and suggests that perhaps Locke’s state is an evil to be avoided, but there may be another solution to the inconveniences of the state of nature. Rather than a contract that accepts the oppression of a government, Nozick suggests that we could have an “invisible hand” minimal state. The idea is that we could arrive at a state which protected all of its citizens, and acts as the final decision for all courts, and acts as the ultimate enforcement of all its citizens’ protection through many gradual, invisible hand, autonomous choices, without harming anyone.

Reimagine the state of nature. Some of the people have the resources to pay a private company to protect them. The private company resolves all disputes between its clients through fair methods. If the private company (association) becomes unfair, its clients will take their business elsewhere. Eventually this business becomes strong enough in a geographical area that everyone trusts that it is the most capable protective association in the area. None of its competitors could stand a chance in a war against it. The Dominant Protective Association (DPA) is not obligated to uphold justice between a member and a nonmember. Between members and nonmembers they are in Locke’s state of nature. The DPA is paid to defend and enforce retribution for their own clients only.

In order to avoid this scenario the DPA will arrive at a point in which it is obligated to assume that everyone within its boundaries of defense is a client, and will force payment from everyone.
In this reading Nozick does not explain the last step, how we convince the last few holdouts to purchase the protective services, but once they do, we have a private state in which no one is coerced. (This seems like a controversial point for Solomon to drop from the reading.)

Once Nozick has established this he is able to move on to how the minimal state should function, and what the Libertarian utopia would look like.


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