A critique of Nozick's Libertarianism compared to Individualist Anarchism

Please ignore the bad referencing, including the referencing of Wikipedia, in this essay. Pretty please!


At first glance the ideologies of "Libertarianism" and "Individualist Anarchism" seem quite similar. They share the same position on many issues, no censorship, no paternalistic laws on drugs, prostitution et cetera. However, there are two main areas where they disagree. The first is that of the state or government. The other major difference between the two is on the issues of capitalism and property. This essay will provide criticism of Nozick's Libertarianism from the perspective of an individualist anarchist. It shall do this by defining Individualist Anarchism, outlining Nozick's Libertarianism and his conclusions, then comparing the two before finally criticising Nozick's arguments (including how the DPA becomes a 'state' and parts of the entitlement theory) and conclusion.

Individualist Anarchism:

Individualist anarchism, like all anarchisms is an idea for a society with no hierarchy or coercive relationships. Relationships would be voluntary and there would be no greater power then the individual. There are two main types of individualist anarchist, those who follow the natural rights tradition, and 'egoists'. Natural rights anarchists believe that, like Nozick, Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights)1. Egoists, do not believe in natural rights, but rather that all people are free to do what they wish. Due to limitations placed on this work, this essay will ignore the egoist tradition.

Nozick's Libertarianism:

Nozick is a classical libertarian; that is he believes in a minimal state with no more powers than a police force, courts and a defence force, to protect against external aggression, internal aggression and fraud. He believes that all people have rights, which may not legitimately be violated. For him this included a right to property, which provides property the same protection as the owner's body. Nozick then, faces the problem of justifying the minimal state against these rights. He started in the state of nature, and proceeded to step by step explain how protective agencies would arise, a dominant protective agency (DPA) would arise and then turn into first an ultra-minimal state - by prohibiting certain acts of force for all, not just its members - and then a minimal state - by providing compensation in the form of protection for those whom it has forbidden to exercise certain rights.

Individualist Anarchism vs Nozick's 'State of Nature':

Nozick's 'state of nature' is based on 'natural rights'.2 This state of nature that Nozick uses as his starting point is similar to an ideology called, 'anarcho-capitalism'3 by its adherents. This ideology promotes a stateless society that includes all the rights that Nozick does, that is, rights to oneself ('self ownership') and all the property one owns, which can be unlimited. While there are many similarities between individualist anarchism and anarcho-capitalism, where anarcho-capitalism has some roots in individualist anarchism, there are also a large number of differences.

Staying with the natural rights tradition, anarcho-capitalists believe in rights, in the conception of ownership of labour, oppose the initiation of force and fraud, and believe that force should only be used for defence.4

The major difference between 'anarcho-capitalism' and individualist anarchism, is on the issue of property and economic systems. To an individualist anarchist, the right to property is limited to what one uses, and also does not include inheritance (but if a child were using it's parents house, then no one would be about to evict that child, as it is using the house). Anarcho-capitalists have a much more liberal property rights, including a right to own unlimited property. The anarcho-capitalist sees no problem with large accumulation of property, but the individualist anarchist sees this as leading to social ills.

Land is the classic example of property, it is only considered owned whilst it is in use, according to the individualist anarchist. However, the anarcho-capitalist considers land to continue to be owned by the first user (until transferred), even if that person no longer is using that land. For example if a house is empty and it is then occupied and then later (be it months or more) the 'owner' comes to claim it the libertarian would consider the 'owner' to be in the right to evict the occupier, and the anarchist would consider the occupier to have the right to resist the person trying to evict them.

While both support the free market, they have different definitions of what constitutes a free market. Anarcho-capitalists believe in the 'subjective theory of value', whilst individualist anarchists generally support a 'labour theory of value'. Individualist anarchists oppose all forms of usury, including rent and interest, while anarcho-capitalists support these as part of their property rights.5

Where anarcho-capitalists see a society of workers and capitalists, individualist anarchists see a society of workers and workers. This comes from the labour theory of value. If a person is hired and paid less for a product then what the hirer sells it for, then the hirer is profiting and thus being a capitalist.

Problems of moving from the DPA to the state:

There are moral problems with Nozick's arguments centred on his dominant protective agency (DPA) and the movement from this to a 'state like entity' (through two stages, the ultra-minimal state and then to the minimal state; due to constraints on the essay, this second step will not be examined6).

Nozick argues that the DPA has no more rights then the sum of the individual's rights; No new powers or rights arise.7 He also claims that individuals have the right to be shown that [they are] being handled by some reliable and fair system.;8 And thus to resist the imposition of an unknown system. Nozick then claims that this is one of the rights that the individual has transferred to the DPA to exercise on there behalf.9 Nozick goes on to say that since they are applying the principle and have the muscle [emphases added] to do so any procedure that the DPA does not know the effectiveness off, is prevented from being used against its members.10 This raises the question then of, is might right? Nozick does say that his explanation does not assume or claim that might makes right.11 Yet, it seems that the mighty are able to enforce their world view.12

Nozick assumes that the state of nature will be a rich one, but what if there are large numbers of poor people who cannot afford services?13 A DPA would presumably still arise for the richer segments of society, but it might not have even a majority of the population. Why would this agency then be able to authorise force? It would seem that this would be a case of the state simply protecting the rich. Of the mighty having a right; one that it can restricted others from having.

Problems with the Entitlement Theory:

One problem with the Entitlement Theory is history. Nozick does not show how we can show the justice in transfers that have happened in the past. Nor if a persons ancestor left enough good land for others,14 or even how the situation of native people in both the USA and Australia can be corrected (the land was acquired unjustly through force or fraud).

Through Nozick claims that his historical entitlement theory is not patterned,15 it could be noted that where unlimited ownership of property exists and existed, along with inheritance, rough patterns emerge. The obvious distinctions are that over time property accumulates greatly in some small sectors of society, while other sectors have very little.16 This could be shown using Nozick's Chamberlain example;17 Chamberlain is in a much better position relative to third persons to buy goods, thus potentially outbidding them. This also illustrates how voluntary transfers affect third persons.

This then affects other parts of his entitlement theory, voluntary transfer. Nozick claims,a transfer is just if and only if it is voluntary.18 There is the problem then, of deciding what is voluntary. If a person demands your money and your life and has the power to enforce the threat, is your handing over your money voluntary?19 If a person is drowning and another offers to rescue them for $1,000,000 is the potential rescuer exploiting the drowning person? Nozick claims that a worker is not forced to work for a capitalist, even if that worker should starve if they choose otherwise.20

The concept of inheritance is often supported by using property rights. However, even assuming that property rights exist and include the right to do what one wishes with ones goods (without obviously harming others), why does this right still exist for the dead? If inheritance was removed from the entitlement theory then the problem of accumulation (see above) would be resolved.

Problems of the state:

Apart from the differences between individualist anarchism and anarcho-capitalism there are more differences with the minimal state that Nozick proposes. The obvious of these is that there is a state or government. While Nozick's state, being a minimal state, should not be able to give orders to citizens that have not violated a 'natural right', it is quite conceivable that it would outlaw many 'risky' activities (such as driving too fast in built up areas). It might well, as anarchists fear, become bigger for a variety of reasons. One of these is that power begets power - that is those who have power, will often work for more power. The 'Iron Law of Oligarchy' will also mean that the state will expand without intervention.21 While these expansions of state power might not be 'immoral', in that they would violate rights, the simple fact of the state means that this is likely to happen. Furthermore, a more than minimal 'state' can be 'justified' on commercial grounds. The 'state' can have services, such as hospitals et cetera but only those who pay, either through taxes or on a per use basis, will be able to use those services. This would be a possibility if the DPA had other operations other then defence.

Problems of moving towards a minimal state or anarchy now:

Nozick's philosophy faces one fundamental problem. While he claims that, where a society could have come about by morally legitimate means, and even if the society come about by other means, then this society may be still morally legitimate, he fails to prove this.22

Considering that historically most transactions have not been legitimate, Nozick faces the problem of moving from the present society of big government and big corporations to a minimal state. He does mention that a rough rule of thumb for rectifying injustices, might be similar to Rawl's Difference Principle.23 However, this would require a much bigger state, and probably a world state to achieve this.

Individualist anarchists do not face the same problem of how to move from the present to their society. While there is no concrete timeline that would be accepted by all, there are methods that are. One major method is the building of alternative structures outside the governmental, capitalist system. Another is non-cooperation with authorities, including failing to vote, pay taxes, or respond to 'official' letters.


The differences between Nozick's state of nature and individualist anarchist present some problems, but even substituting an individualist anarchist society for Nozick's state of nature, Nozick's state would still arise with moral problems.

Nozick's arguments really fall down in trying to build a state from the dominant protective agency. While it is feasible and (if one accepts Nozick's basis of rights) morally correct to have a protective agency that has an effective monopoly, Nozick does not provide a moral way (though he try's) for that to become a minimal state. Nor, does Nozick justify the minimal state on other grounds, such as it being a framework for Utopia.24 Thus Nozick fails to convince the Individualist Anarchist reader that Nozick is correct.

Footnotes and bibliograhpy

1 Robert Nozick Anarchy State and Utopia (USA: Basil Blackwell, 1974) ix

2 John Kilcullen, 'Nozick, Anarchy, State & Utopia', http://www.humanities.mq.edu.au/Ockham/y64l16.html 1996, (accessed: 14/9/2005)

3There are disputes about if this ideology constitutes a form of anarchism at all, as unrestricted property rights leads to the possibility of persons gaining an unreasonable amount of power over others. Economic power is just as bad as social power in the eyes of an anarchist.

4 Amber Pawlik, 'Is Government Necessary?' http://www.amberpawlik.com/Government.html January 16, 2002, (accessed: 14/9/2005)

5'Individualist Anarchism and Anarcho-Capitalism' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Individualist_anarchism_and_anarcho-capitalism (accessed 14/9/2005)

6 See the afterword for some thoughts on compensation

7 Nozick Anarchy State and Utopia 89

8 Nozick Anarchy State and Utopia 102

9 Nozick, 102

10 Nozick, 103

11 Nozick, 118

12 Nozick, 119

13 Jonathan Wolff, Robert Nozick - Property, Justice and the Minimal State (USA: Stanford University Press, 1991) 54

14 Wolff, 42

15 Wolff, 77

16 See different parts of K. Marx, 'The Accumulation of Capital' & 'Primitive Accumulation' in Capital Volume One at http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ (accessed: 12/9/2005)

17Chamberlain is greatly in demand by basketball teams [and] signs [a] contract with a team: In each home game twenty-five cents from the price of each ticket ... goes to him. ... [I]n one season one million persons attend his home games, and Wilt Chamberlain ends up with $250,000, a much larger sum than the average income and larger even than anyone else has. Nozick, 161.

18 Wolff, 83

19 Ibid.

20 Wolff, 85

21 'The Iron Law of Oligarchy', http://www.spunk.org/texts/places/germany/sp000711.txt (accessed: 15/9/2005)

22 Nozick, 7

23 Nozick, 231

24 See afterword.

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