Nozick’s two problems of libertarian theory

Nozick begins Chapter 3 (pp. 26-28) by drawing a distinction between two types of libertarian government (see image below): a “soft core” libertarian minimal state that protects all its citizens against harm and a “hard core” libertarian ultra-minimal state that only protects its own customers. In Nozick’s own words (p. 26), a minimal state is the “night-watchman state” of libertarian theory, one that is “limited to the [narrow] functions of protecting all its citizens against violence, theft, and fraud, and to the enforcement of contracts.” An ultra-minimal state, by contrast, “provides protection and enforcement services only to those who purchase its protections and enforcement policies” (ibid., italics in original). Also, Nozick identifies two foundational problems, one for each type of libertarian governance.

On the one hand, the problem for proponents of the soft core minimal state is that such a state is necessarily committed to some level of economic redistribution. After all, as Nozick himself concedes, the night-watchman state is redistributive to the extent that it compels some people to pay for the protection of others. Therefore (p. 27), “If some redistribution is legitimate [or morally permissible] in order to protect everyone, why is redistribution not legitimate [morally permissible] for other attractive and desirable purposes as well?” On the other hand, the problem for supporters of the hard core ultra-minimal state is that some people will receive little or no protection from such a state, unless they have purchased a sufficient level of protection services ahead of time. Why is this a problem? Because a true libertarian believes that all persons have rights. Yet, as Nozick notes (p. 28), “how can he [a true libertarian] support the ultraminimal state, which would seem to leave some persons’ rights unprotected or illprotected?” Is there any way to solve or at least side-step either of these problems? We will continue our review of Chapter 3 tomorrow …

Image result for ultraminimal state

Credit: Abel Pitts

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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1 Response to Nozick’s two problems of libertarian theory

  1. Pingback: Nozick on rights and moral goals versus moral constraints | prior probability

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