A Question for Nozick: Why Locke?

Nozick poses two additional questions in the third subsection of Chapter 6 (pp. 130-133). First, he asks whether individuals in a state of nature might agree with each other or unilaterally decide to refrain from creating or joining a protection agency, or in Nozick’s words (p. 130, emphasis in original): “… might not everyone choose to stay out, in order to avoid the [inevitable loss of freedom] at the end of the process.” (In other words, why isn’t option D (from our 1/9/18 blog post) the most likely equilibrium in the state of nature.) According to Nozick, such a possibility is not a stable equilibrium, since the state of nature is like a Prisoner’s Dilemma (p. 131): “each individual will realize that it is in his own individual interest to join a protection association (the more so as some others join) …” Really? If I join a protection agency, what guarantee do I have (especially in the state of nature) that my protection agency won’t turn around and violate my rights! (Roughly, this is the situation we have today with most civil governments.)

The other intriguing question Nozick raises is this: what would John Locke have to say about Nozick’s theory of dominant protection agencies? After all, as Nozick himself notes (p. 132), the process of creating and joining a private protection agency, an association that later becomes the dominant one in a given territory, “looks nothing like unanimous joint agreement to create a government or state,” i.e. looks nothing like a Lockean social compact. For his part, Nozick decides to define “social compact” (or social contract) so broadly as to include any ephemeral micro pattern of behavior, so long as the pattern is the result of voluntary actions, such as “the particular traffic pattern on a state’s highways on a given day” or “the set of customers of a given grocery store on a given day and the particular purchases they make” (p. 132). Again, really? Is Nozick simply saying that the tacit consent of each individual to drive on x highway or to shop at y grocery store at z time of day is a sufficient condition for the existence of a social contract to respect other people’s rights? Aside from appearing to look clever, what is gained by such feats of sophistic reasoning? Why not just reject Locke’s social contract theory and be done with it?

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