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). My second book on this subject, Libertarian Philosophy in the Real World: The Politics of Natural Rights, was just published by Bloomsbury Academic. For additional information about libertarianism, this site, my books, and your host, please follow the links to the left.

New on the Blog

More on Gifted Education

In a post last month I discussed the disgraceful failure of our public schools to adequately educate our most gifted children. As if on cue, the Wall Street Journal published last week an important opinion piece on this subject. This essay, “The Bright Students Left Behind,” by Chester Finn, Jr. and Brandon Wright (both affiliated with an Ohio think-tank dedicated to school reform) does a superb job of diagnosing and documenting the disease, but falls far short in its recommended cure. Continue Reading »

Nozick, Federalism, and Utopia

In previous posts (here and here) I have discussed Nozick’s somewhat neglected libertarian “framework for utopia,” which he lays out in Part III of ASU. Very briefly, in an ideal world the minimal state would provide the institutional skeleton around which individuals and communities could construct their own preferred modes of living. So long as people join them voluntarily and are free to leave, such communities may be distinctly illiberal. The state would function to ensure that the various sub-units do not aggress against each other, and would safeguard each person’s right of exit.

Nozick is operating here in the realm of ideal theory, and accordingly does not attempt to thoroughly address various practical problems that would arise under his framework. See ASU, 329-31. For one thing, children do not voluntarily elect to live in a particular jurisdiction, but are born, socialized, and educated wherever their parents have decided to reside.  Furthermore, exit from such communities will inevitably involve certain costs.  Such facts might, in the real world, require a more interventionist state than anticipated by Nozick in his idealized setting.  Apart from this, there may be certain group rules and practices that are so abhorrent to other communities, even if adopted on a consensual basis, that the latter may not wish to “share the same roof” with them, even symbolically.

Putting these complexities aside, Nozick’s idea has striking similarities to the federalism that the framers understood to be the essence of our constitution. “Federalism” is defined by my dictionary as “the distribution of power in an organization (as a government) between a central authority and the constituent units.” The founding fathers embraced this idea: all responsibilities not formally delegated to the federal government were to remain with the several states and ultimately repose in the people themselves (see the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution). The remaining substantive guarantees set forth in the Bill of Rights originally applied only to the federal government. Continue Reading »