1 February 2013

Nozick's protective associations

In Anarchy, State and Utopia Robert Nozick tries to justify a minimal state. Protective associations are an important part of the process, since they will ultimately give rise to the state by assuming the monopoly of violence.

In his reasoning, the relation between these associations and their clients is very limited: the associations simply provide a service in exchange for a fee, without violating their rights (in particular, the right to choose a different association). One can wonder why they should stop at that, instead of turning their clients into subjects (after all, as sole providers of violence, they have the means to do it). Historically, this is what often happens, whether the associations are (non-democratic) states or lower-level entities: warlords, clans, criminal syndicates etc. Only a (reasonably strong) democratic state can organize such a "protection market", but this is of course  begging the question.
  1. This objection is not a direct refutation of Nozick's argument, since he does not claim to present a historical account, but only a morally permissible path from a putative "state of nature" towards the minimal state. It is however interesting to know whether this transition could actually take place.
  2. What would invalidate the argument is showing (by historical analysis) that the state must be stronger than the minimal one in order to guarantee individual rights.
Interestingly, Murray Rothbard also critiques Nozick's argument1 for (among other reasons) its ahistorical character. Of course, when discussing protection agencies he reaches an opposite conclusion, namely that these agencies can very well coexist, without the emergence of the ultra-minimal state. He shares however Nozick's belief in an effective protection market and in the self-correcting character of the pre-state configuration:

Any agencies that transgressed the basic libertarian code would be open outlaws and aggressors, and Nozick himself concedes that, lacking legitimacy, such outlaw agencies would probably not do very well in an anarchist society.

 One can wonder how well-equipped is the anarchist society to deal with such an aggressor.



1. Murray N. Rothbard, Robert Nozick and the Immaculate Conception of the State, Journal of Libertarian Studies, 1(1), 45-57, 1977.

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