Nozick’s protective associations (and two untestable conjectures)

Our previous post revisited the first section of Chapter 2 of Anarchy, State, and Utopia. In that post, we summarized Nozick’s comprehensive summary of three serious problems that could arise even in Locke’s idyllic version of the state of nature. To sum up, these practical problems, or what Nozick euphemistically refers to as “inconveniences,” could generate terrible injustices and could also potentially lead to endless blood feuds, to a Hobbesian war of all against all. In the next two section of Chapter 2 (pp. 12-15), Nozick offers up two bold but untestable conjectures. First, he posits the spontaneous emergence of “mutual-protection associations” (p. 12). That is, people in Locke’s state of nature will not sit idly by on their asses; they will proactively form protective associations or informal alliances in order to avoid the risk of endless feuds and protect their natural rights, such as the right to life and the right to own one’s personal possessions. (These alliances are informal because there are no courts to enforce contracts in the state of nature.)

Unfortunately, the emergence of decentralized and informal protection associations generates a whole new set of practical problems! Nozick spells these problems out on pp. 12-13. For example, everyone must always be on call to defend the rights of his fellow members, yet each member might be tempted to free ride on the protective efforts of his fellow members. But the most serious problem posed by the emergence of protective associations is intra-association conflict. That is, what if a member of a given association harms or injures a fellow member? How will the protective association handle a conflict among its own members? Here is where Nozick offers the second of his spectacular conjectures: the spontaneous emergence of specialization via a new class of private enforcers and private adjudicators (i.e. private police and private judges). In the words of Nozick (p. 13, emphasis in original), “Some people will be hired to perform protective functions [on behalf of an association], and some entrepreneurs will go into the business of selling protective services.” In other words, some people will find it worth their while to specialize in the detection, apprehension, and punishment of aggression.

In addition, Nozick conjectures that some people will further specialize in the adjudication of disputes. This way, if two members of the same protective association are in conflict, their association can hire a private adjudicator to decide who is in the right. Moreover, competing protection associations may also find it advantageous to hire reputable third-party adjudicators (before going to war) to make an extra-judicial determination of guilt when conflicts arise between the members of such competing groups. Thus, according to Nozick, the emergence of private enforcers and private judges will deter the occurrence of aggression and will reduce the possibility of endless feuds between the members of a single mutual protection association and across protective associations as well. But there is a gaping hole in Nozick’s libertarian picture of spontaneous protection associations and entrepreneurial enforcers: the lack of enforceable contracts in the state of nature. In other words, what if one of the protection associations and its own hired guns are involved in a dispute with each other? Who will enforce agreements made between a protective association and its private contractors?

Image result for private judges

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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