Welcome

This site is devoted to advancing the rights-based political philosophy first articulated by John Locke and championed prominently in our day by the late Robert Nozick in his classic Anarchy, State, and Utopia [1974].  It will do so by explaining minimal state libertarianism in a way that is accessible to the intelligent general reader and by hosting a forum that will subject its key ideas to scrutiny and debate.

I make my own modest contribution to this cause in my book, Nozick’s Libertarian Project: An Elaboration and Defense (London: Continuum International, 2011). I have a second book on this subject, Libertarian Philosophy in the Real World: The Politics of Natural Rights, forthcoming at the end of this year. For additional information about libertarianism, this site, my book, and your host, please follow the links to the left.

New on the Blog

Hobby Lobby Nonsense

The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 573 U.S. ____ (2014), has provoked a firestorm of criticism from those who apparently regard it as an affront to all human decency that closely-held corporations cannot be forced by the state to pay for health insurance that covers abortifacients, when the prescription and use of such drugs violate the corporate owner’s sincere religious beliefs and moral convictions. Those who object to the decision in Burwell are prone to invoking the plain fact that “corporations aren’t people,” as if this is somehow relevant to the morality of the policy under debate. As shown below, it is not. Continue Reading »

Nozick, Pollution, and Cost-Benefit Analysis

It is often claimed that the libertarian conception of property rights is so stringent as to make it impossible for holders of this view to formulate plausible rules for regulating environmental pollution. In a recent essay, Matt Zwolinski summarizes the problem as follows:

On the libertarian view, property rights can be justifiably overridden only in very unusual situations and only by the very weightiest of competing moral concerns, if at all. Libertarians hold, for instance, that a person’s property right in his justly acquired wealth is so strong that it would be impermissible to steal (or tax) even a nickel from him, no matter how great a social benefit we could produce by doing so. But this seems to commit libertarians to the extremely demanding view that it is equally wrong to impose a nickel’s worth of damage on one’s neighbor through pollution. In the same way that the libertarian’s property absolutism leads her unable to recognize any morally significant difference between excessive and acceptable levels of taxation, so too is she unable to distinguish between relatively serious and relatively trivial forms of pollution. (footnotes omitted).[1]

In reviewing Nozick’s treatment of this issue, Professor Zwolinski notes an apparent contradiction between his conception of rights as side constraints, and his willingness to endorse the use of cost-benefit analysis (“CBA”) for purposes of determining what forms of pollution should be permitted. According to Zwolinski, “Nozick’s position seems to abandon the intuitive idea with which he began that individuals are ‘inviolable,’ and replace it with the idea violating individual rights is perfectly fine, so long as you are willing to pay the price.” (footnote omitted). Zwolinski, 13-4. Continue Reading »