Robert Nocizk: Rembrandt Of Libertarianism


Robert Nozick was one of Harvard’s most distinguished professors, a president of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association, and the author of several influential books.

Robert Nozick quotes, while not as numerous as those of better-known libertarian thought leaders [Murray Rothbard and Friedrich Hayek come to mind] are nevertheless illuminating.

Nozick was born to Jewish parents in Brooklyn  [New York City has produced an inordinate number of libertarian thinkers. Esko, Minnesota had better step it up]. He studied at Columbia, Princeton, and Oxford, and proceeded to teach at several prestigious universities and settled permanently in Harvard in 1969.

Nozick published Anarchy, State, and Utopia in 1974. It is of particular interest to libertarians in part because it argues in favor of extremely limited state interference in private life. Nozick’s ideal, minimal state would be “limited to the narrow functions of protection against force, theft, fraud, enforcement of contracts, and so on.” Once a state’s influence extended beyond these spheres, it would necessarily begin to violate individual rights.

Anarchy, State, and Utopia doesn’t take so extreme an approach as advocating for anarcho-capitalism, in which social services would fall under the exclusive domain of the private sector [There is, indeed, a good argument against putting JPMorgan Chase & Co., in charge of fraud prevention]. Nozick argued that any such society would develop into a monarchist state as dominant defense and judicial agencies inevitably rose to power. To Nozick, preventing those agencies from growing to the point where they might imprison an individual for collecting rainwater would be paramount for the preservation of liberty.

It is outside of our powers of summarization to present every other idea contained within Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Nozick did extensively explore the Lockean state of nature, in which all men are free “to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature” [Second Treatise on Government, 1689]. In a departure from [John] Locke, Nozick rejected the concept of inalienable rights to some degree. For example, in his worldview slave contracts are not by definition immoral — provided as they are also not coercive. In this utopia people could essentially do as they please so long as the non-aggression principle remains unmolested.

Nozick’s other notable works include Philosophical Explanations, in which he explores topics ranging from free will to the meaning of life itself, The Examined Life which includes a corking argument in favor of letting tax payers opt out of funding programs to which they are philosophically opposed, and Socratic Puzzles, a collection of essays on topics including the Austrian School of economics and Ayn Rand [the chief old bird of libertarianism herself]. His last book Invariances: The Structure of the Objective World tackles the theory of truth itself. That’s really heavy, man.

We wouldn’t like to suggest that Novack’s works are impenetrable. They just aren’t exactly the kinds of books you’re likely to choose for your kid’s bedtime stories — unless you’re looking for a healthier, child-friendlier alternative to chloroform.


“When I was 15 years old, or 16, I carried around on the streets of Brooklyn a paperback copy of Plato’s Republic, front cover facing outward. I had read only some of it and understood less, but I was excited by it and knew it was something wonderful.” — Examined Life: Philosophical Meditations, pg 303

“And although it might be best of all to be Socrates satisfied, having both happiness and depth, we would give up some happiness in order to gain the depth.” — Examined Life: Philosophical Meditations, pg 102

“Our principles fix what our life stands for, our aims create the light our life is bathed in, and our rationality, both individual and coordinate, defines and symbolizes the distance we have come from mere animality. It is by these means that our lives come to more than what they instrumentally yield. And by meaning more, our lives yield more.” — The Nature of Rationality, pg 181

“Marxian exploitation is the exploitation of people’s lack of understanding of economics.” — Anarchy, State, and Utopia

“Why are philosophers intent on forcing others to believe things? Is that a nice way to behave towards someone?” — Philosophical Explanations, pg 5


 “From each as they choose, to each as they are chosen.” — Anarchy, State, and Utopia

“No state more extensive than the minimal state can be justified.” — Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pg 297

“Taxation of earnings from labor is on a par with forced labor. Seizing the results of someone’s labor is equivalent to seizing hours from him and directing him to carry on various activities.” — Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pg 169

“No state more extensive than the minimal state can be justified.” — Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pg 297

“Taxation of earnings from labor is on a par with forced labor. Seizing the results of someone’s labor is equivalent to seizing hours from him and directing him to carry on various activities.” — Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pg 169

“It goes without saying that any persons may attempt to unite kindred spirits, but, whatever their hopes and longings, none have the right to impose their vision of unity upon the rest.” — Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pg 325

“What persons may and may not do to one another limits what they may do through the apparatus of a state, or do to establish such an apparatus.” — Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pg 6

“Individuals have rights and there are things no person or group may do to them [without violating their rights]. So strong and far-reaching are these rights that they raise the question of what, if anything, the state and its officials may do. How much room do individual rights leave for the state?” — Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pg Ix

“Each community must win and hold the voluntary adherence of its members. No pattern is imposed on everyone, and the result will be one pattern if and only if everyone voluntarily chooses to live in accordance with that pattern of community.”
— Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pg 316

“Unsuccessful businessmen and workers do not have the same animus against the capitalist system as do the wordsmith intellectuals. Only the sense of unrecognized superiority, of entitlement betrayed, produces that animus.” — Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?


“Utopia is a framework for utopias, a place where people are at liberty to join together voluntarily to pursue and attempt to realize their own vision of the good life in the ideal community but where no one can impose his own utopian vision upon others.” — Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pg 311

“Utopia is a meta-utopia: the environment in which Utopian experiments may be tried out; the environment in which people are free to do their own thing; the environment which must, to a great extent, be realized first if more particular Utopian visions are to be realized stably.” — Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pg 312

“Is there really someone who, searching for a group of wise and sensitive persons to regulate him for his own good, would choose that group of people that constitute the membership of both houses of Congress?” — Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pg 14

“Our main conclusions about the state are that a minimal state, limited, to the narrow functions of protection against force, theft, fraud, enforcement of contracts, and so on, is justified, but any more extensive state will violate persons’ rights not to be forced to do certain things, and is unjustified; and that the minimal state is inspiring as well as right.” — Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pg ix

“In a free system any large, popular, revolutionary movement should be able to bring about its ends by such a voluntary process. As more and more people see how it works more and more will wish to participate in or support it. And so it will grow, without being necessary to force everyone or a majority or anyone into the pattern.” — Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pg 327

“There is no social entity with a good that undergoes some sacrifice for its own good. There are only individual people, different individual people, with their own individual lives. Using one of these people for the benefit of others, uses him and benefits the others. Nothing more.” — Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pg 32

“Some people steal from others, or defraud them, or enslave them, seizing their product and preventing them from living as they choose, or forcibly exclude others from competing in exchanges. None of these are permissible modes of transition from one situation to another.”
— Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pg 152

“You can’t satisfy everybody; especially if there are those who will be dissatisfied unless not everybody is satisfied.” — Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pg 320

“The minimal state treats us as inviolate individuals, who may not be used in certain ways by others as means or tools or instruments or resources; it treats us as persons having individual right with the dignity this constitutes… How dare any state or group of individuals do more. Or less.”
– Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pg 333

“Once a person exists, not everything compatible with his overall existence being a net plus can be done, even by those who created him. An existing person has claims, even against those whose purpose in creating him was to violate those claims.”
 Anarchy, State, and Utopia

About the Author: Alex Horsman studied business and economics at the University of Missouri. He found himself particularly drawn to the Austrian School of economics, gobbling down the teachings of greats like Rothbard, Friedman and Hayek a la Tic Tacs. He was most enthralled by the work of Thomas Sowell too. The economist’s staunch opposition to the Federal Reserve, enlightening advocacy for the free market, and unyielding objection to Marxism all strongly color his beliefs to this day. He most closely identifies with the philosophy of anarcho-capitalism. To him the concepts of individual sovereignty and self-actualization are paramount to a life well-lived. It is little wonder, as he articulates, why he aspires to live up to the ideal of the Nietzschean Übermensch [You should see his reaction to moody teenagers who interpret Nietzsche’s work as some sort of justification for nihilism].


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[Robert Nozick. Illustration, Courtesy: ESSENTIAL SCHOLARS]