Perhaps harkening back to Talmudic disputations, it is often joked, “two Jews three opinions.” Something similar may rightly be said about libertarians, who are always discovering new subjects to quarrel about. In addition to existing disagreements over (among other things) the correct moral grounding for libertarian rights, the relative virtues of ordered anarchy and the minimal state, foreign policy, open borders, intellectual property, we can now add the question of “thin” versus “thick” libertarianism.
The first view, which appears to be the dominant one, holds that libertarianism should be regarded exclusively as a political ideology. Meaning for anarcho-capitalists, the elimination of all states or, for minarchists, dramatically limiting the role of the state to its few legitimate functions. On this account libertarianism only requires that we, acting individually or through the state, respect the natural rights of other persons against force and fraud, and does not impose any positive duties, such as beneficence. Continue Reading »
Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia is widely acknowledged as a brilliant work of political philosophy, even by many theorists who reject its key conclusions. Among his enduring contributions are the arguments he formulates for the stringency of property rights, highlighting their essential connection to the exercise of personal autonomy. For example, while not (as often claimed) adopting self-ownership as the mainspring of his defense of libertarian rights, he famously wrote that: “Seizing the results of someone’s labor is equivalent to seizing hours from him and directing him to carry on various activities…The process whereby they take this decision from you makes them a part-owner of you; it gives them a property right in you” (emphasis in original). ASU, 172.
In this process, he addresses many of the considerations that have been invoked by others to limit the scope of ownership rights. This “parade of horribles” includes a stranded hiker whose survival depends on breaking into a deserted cabin (“Cabin”) and a misanthropic inventor who is unwilling to lend humanity his asteroid-destroying device (“Asteroid”). See my Nozick’s Libertarian Project: An Elaboration and Defense, 130. Continue Reading »