Friday, 17 January 2014

Anarchy, State and Utopia

I started this blog with the intention of reading through John Rawls' A Theory of Justice and blogging my notes on it. I got through the first chapter or so, but concluded that I would not be able to get through it before the exam for which it might be useful without ignoring all other revision. I have reverted the notes I had on to draft posts, and will hope to get back to ToJ reasonably soon. In the mean time, I will instead be making notes on Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State and Utopia.

Why am I giving up one book in order to read another from scratch (you may ask)? There are several reasons:

  • Anarchy, State and Utopia is noticeably shorter than A Theory of Justice: my copies have them at 334 and 514 pages respectively.
  • Nozick is considerably clearer and easier to read than Rawls. (This isn't just me suffering from the affect heuristic, my Rawlsian flatmate made this observation before I did).
  • I have more prior exposure to Nozick's ideas, which should hopefully allow me to read through a bit faster and help me to remember more of the ideas.
A (very) basic summary of Anarchy, State and Utopia

The book consists of three sections. The first defends the minimal state against anarchist challenges; the second argues that a more-than-minimal state cannot be justified; the third presents a positive vision of utopia less as a system, but more as a framework in which people establish their own visions of utopia.

Nozick advocates a slightly modified version of Lockean natural rights theory, arguing that all people have certain inviolable rights of life and property. The book has sometimes been criticised for failing to defend this adequately, but (according to defences of the book I have read) this is not really a fair criticism: Nozick uses only the same foundations as were used three years earlier by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice, a highly influential work advocating massive redistribution of wealth.

Anarchy, State and Utopia was written largely in response to Rawls, and indeed the two books can be seen as starting from very similar premises and arguing that the premises support differing conclusions. They are very much a dialogue, and both Rawls and Nozick thank each other in the acknowledgements sections of their respective books.

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