Thursday, May 01, 2008

Schaefer, David Lewis. "Robert Nozick and the Coast of Utopia." NEW YORK SUN April 30, 2008.

In 1971, a previously obscure Harvard philosophy professor, John Rawls, published a book that ultimately brought him acclaim as “America’s greatest political philosopher.” In the book, A Theory of Justice, Rawls set forth an account of justice in the form of two principles, ordaining respectively that people’s “equal basic liberties” — such rights as freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the right to vote — should be maximized, and that inequalities in social and economic goods other than liberty are acceptable only if they promote the welfare of the “least advantaged” members of society. (He termed the latter the “difference principle.”) Three years after the appearance of Theory, a departmental colleague of Rawls, Robert Nozick, published a libertarian response, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, which argued that nothing more than a “minimal state” devoted to protecting people against crimes like assault, robbery, and fraud could be morally justified. Nozick’s book was far more concise than Rawls’s Theory, and Anarchy, State, and Utopia did not go unnoticed: It won the 1975 National Book Award and was later listed by the Times Literary Supplement as one of the 100 most influential books of the 20th century. Anarchy remains a staple of the syllabus in courses on political theory, where it is usually juxtaposed with selections from Rawls to suggest that Rawls’s welfare-state liberalism and Nozick’s libertarianism represent the full spectrum of possibilities for contemporary liberal democracies. Nonetheless, Nozick’s reputation and influence in the academy — to say nothing of his name recognition in the broader world of law and politics — have never rivaled those of his colleague. . . . Read the rest here:

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