The problem of independents (in Anarchy, State, and Utopia)

Nozick (pictured below) presents an important theoretical problem in the first subsection of Chapter 4: the problem of independents, or how should a private protection racket deal with non-members? Additionally, Nozick raises a further theoretical problem in a footnote (p. 55): What happens if a non-member’s land is completely surrounded by land owned by members of a protection racket? How can the non-member leave his land to make a living without trespass, i.e. without violating the natural rights of his neighbors? See, for example, Parcel “L” pictured below. (For what it’s worth, Nozick says that he will address the surrounding-person problem in Ch. 7.)

Recall from previous chapters that, according to Nozick, people in a state of nature will establish “mutual protection associations” to protect their natural rights and that these protection rackets will compete with each other for clients until there are just few dominant agencies left, via an invisible hand process. But this hypothetical scenario poses an interesting problem, what if a few persons — or even just one person! — refuse to purchase protection services from any of the protection agencies? How should any of the remaining protection rackets deal with such non-members or “independents”? This scenario poses a problem because an independent retains his “natural” right to punish anyone who violates his rights, but at the same, such a rights-violator might belong to a private protection association. If so, doesn’t the protection agency have a duty to protect its clients? But what about the independent’s ex ante right to enforce his rights? Who wins?

Moreover, in the course of identifying this theoretical problem (the problem of independents), Nozick draws a fundamental distinction between primary or first-order natural rights (e.g. the right to life and property) and secondary natural rights or the right to enforce other rights (e.g. the right to punish or retaliate against someone who has violated one’s substantive rights). We will consider Nozick’s solution to “the problem of independents” in future blog posts …

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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 The problem of independents (in Anarchy, State, and Utopia)

  1. Reblogged this on prior probability and commented:

    I am reblogging part 15 of my review of Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State, and Utopia.” The post below covers the first of ten sections of Chapter 4 of ASU, where Nozick poses “the problem of independents” — a problem that could potentially derail Nozick’s entire libertarian project. To the point, how should a private protection racket deal with non-members? On the one hand, non-members or “independents” retain their natural rights to punish anyone who violates their rights, but at the same, what if the rights-violator belongs to a private protection association himself? Who wins?

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