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 published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2015. For additional information about libertarianism, this site, my books, and your host, please follow the links to the left.

New on the Blog

Freedom Implies Responsibility, College Edition

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a top-tier Democratic presidential candidate, is out with a proposal that would forgive most of the $1.5 trillion debt now outstanding in higher-education student debt. She and a number of other presidential hopefuls are also proposing “free” or heavily subsidized tuition at public colleges and universities.

These plans are, of course, anathema to libertarians because they impermissibly use the coercive power of the state to benefit some individuals at the expense of others. In this case, tax dollars are taken from those who elect not to pursue college degrees in order to first make, then forgive, student loans for those who do. And now, if these candidates get their way, to pay this tuition outright. Eighteen-year-olds are sufficiently mature to decide for themselves, without interference by the state, whether or not to pursue higher education, and to live with the consequences.

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The Lockean Proviso and Social Policy

It is fair to say that Nozick’s adaptation of Locke’s famous proviso regarding the just original appropriation of property serves as the linchpin of his “entitlement theory” of justice. By conditioning just acquisition on the satisfaction of certain criteria, Locke sought to show that the system of property rights he envisioned would not worsen the situation of non-appropriators. In an earlier post I explain that Nozick interpreted Locke’s construct to include a “historical shadow” following property from owner to owner, and show that this enables him to resolve what might otherwise be fatal objections to his view regarding the stringency of property rights.

The key insight is that Locke’s proviso regarding the original appropriation of property is grounded in the concern that such acquisition not violate any other party’s natural right of self-preservation.  Given this perspective, we need not resort to a particular, hypothetical welfare baselines to judge whether a system of capitalist property rights is worsening the plight of others.  Ultimately, any such baseline is arbitrary.  Rather, we should look to the proviso itself for guidance. Continue Reading »