Nozick and the problem of risky independents

I am resuming my in-depth review of Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” — so welcome back! The post below is Part 26 of my series, and it covers the first subsection of Chapter 5 of ASU (pp. 88-90), where Nozick explores the problem of “risky independents” — i.e. individuals who are not members of a private protection agency in Nozick’s state of nature. Here, Nozick concludes that protection rackets do not have the right to prohibit a “risky independent” from enforcing his own rights because “the legitimate powers of a protective association are merely the sum of the individual rights that its members or clients transfer to the association” (p. 89).

prior probability

Nozick addresses a very intriguing question in the first subsection of Chapter 5 of ASU (pp. 88-90): when does a private protection agency in a (Lockean) state of nature have the moral right to prohibit a non-member from enforcing his natural rights? After all, according to Nozick, not only does every person have rights; every person also has the right to enforce his rights. But enforcement can be a risky business. What if, for example, a non-member uses enforcement procedures that are too risky or dangerous? Or, in the words of Nozick (p. 88): “An independent might be prohibited from privately exacting justice because his [enforcement] procedure is known to be too risky and dangerous–that is, it involves a higher risk (than another procedure) of punishing an innocent person or overpunishing a guilty one …” We call this the problem of risky independents.

Without getting bogged down in the details…

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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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