Book Review: Anarchy, State, And Utopia

Anarchy, State, And Utopia, by Robert Nozick

In many ways this particular book is a fascinating look into the mind of someone who is consciously addressing various contemporary political theories relating to justice and the just state and seeking to provide as solid a defense as possible for a minimal state that preserves the highest degree of liberty possible for people while also addressing the question of utopian states that are common in leftist/liberal ideas for the way the world should be.  This is by no means a new debate.  Utopia itself (a neologism meaning “no place”) is a term that was apparently coined by Sir Thomas More in the 16th century and state of nature debates about the ideal state were part of the general intellectual culture of European and American writings during the seventeenth and eighteenth century, as examples by Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and others have been immensely popular and influential over the past few hundred years.  While it is clear that this book is a contemporary effort that addresses contemporary concerns, this is a book that can go toe to toe with that historical tradition of writings in defense of liberty that address the complex and even contradictory meaning of the freedoms that we seek to attain and maintain.

This book is almost 350 pages long and is divided into three parts and ten chapters.  The book begins with a preface and some touching acknowledgments and then moves on to discuss the author’s thoughts on the state-of-nature debate and how to find a state without really trying (I), which includes chapters on state-of-nature theory (I), the qualities of the author’s view of the state of nature (2), and the issue of moral constraints and the state (3), as well as the problems of prohibition, compensation, and risk (4), the state (5), and some further arguments for the state and what kind of place the state should stop at (6).  After that the author discusses the lack of desirability of a state that goes beyond the minimal state (II), including the problem of distributive justice dealing with entitlement theory as well as Rawls’ theory (7), the problems of equality, envy, and exploitation (8), and a derivation of hypothetical histories of more than minimal states (9), after which the book ends with a framework for Utopia (III, 10), as well as notes, a bibliography, and an index.

That does not mean that this book is perfect.  At times the author is far too obviously motivated by a desire to promote a particular idea and at times the conversation becomes very abstract in the nature of the author’s logic.  That said, this book does a great job at pointing out that the desire of the state (and those who seek to control or steer the state) to provide for the well-being of the people frequently overestimate their ability to shape others and the legitimacy of so doing.  If this book is not quite as pleasant to read as the classic works by writers like Bastiat are, that is because a contemporary reader finds it necessary to address more contemporary arguments that are frequently less pleasant and enjoyable to work their way through because of the problems of contradictory language and deliberate hostility to tradition and violently hostile ideals of the well-being of humanity.  In short, this book is one that will greatly inform the reader about the genuine disputes that exist over the ideal state to this day, and a wake-up call to those who thought that such questions have been answered forever in the sort of systems that we now have or those that are pushed by the fashionable idiots of the left.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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