Nozick: Libertarians are “filled…with resentment at other freer ways of being”

15 Oct

I don’t know how I missed this the previous times I read Nozick, but John Holbo—in a terrific paper on liberalism, conservatism, and ideal theory, which is due to appear in a forthcoming volume of Nomos—points me to this revealing line from Nozick’s preface to Anarchy, State, and Utopia. This is how Nozick characterizes his libertarian comrades:

Many of the people who take a similar position [as Nozick's] are…filled, paradoxically, with resentment at other freer ways of being.

From his lips to your ears.

Or, as I wrote in The Reactionary Mind:

Neither is conservatism a makeshift fusion of capitalists, Christians, and warriors, for that fusion is impelled by a more elemental force—the opposition to the liberation of men and women from the fetters of their superiors, particularly in the private sphere. Such a view might seem miles away from the libertarian defense of the free market, with its celebration of the atomistic and autonomous individual. But it is not.

Though it is often claimed that the left stands for equality while the right stands for freedom, this notion misstates the actual disagreement between right and left. Historically, the conservative has favored liberty for the higher orders and constraint for the lower orders. What the conservative sees and dislikes in equality, in other words, is not a threat to freedom but its extension. For in that extension, he sees a loss of his own freedom.

42 Responses to “Nozick: Libertarians are “filled…with resentment at other freer ways of being””

  1. jschulman October 16, 2013 at 12:22 am #

    Truer words were never said.

  2. Collin October 16, 2013 at 1:33 am #

    “Despite the fact that it is only coercive routes toward these goals that are excluded, while voluntary ones remain, many persons will reject our conclusions instantly, knowing they don’t want to believe anything so apparently callous toward the needs and suffering of others,” in the paragraph prior to your quote- I believe it is to these people he is referring, not his “libertarian comrades.”

    • Malatesta October 17, 2013 at 12:25 am #

      Nah, read it again. He is very definitely talking about the ‘bad company’ his libertarian views put him in.

      • Collin October 17, 2013 at 7:31 am #

        Let me provide the entire paragraph:

        “My earlier reluctance [to libertarian thought] is not present in this volume, because it has disappeared. Over time, I have grown accustomed to the views and their consequences, and I now see the political realm through them. Since many of the people who take a similar position [here, he is referring to those who took a similar position to him before adopting his new libertarian views, a la those in the previous paragraph and which I cited above] to those who are narrow and rigid, and filled, paradoxically, with resentment at other freer ways of being, my now having natural responses which fit the theory puts me in some bad company [the company of those who he originally belong to, those with a negative initial response to libertarian thought]. I do not welcome the fact that most people I know and respect disagree with me, having outgrown the not wholly admirable pleasure of irritating or dumbfounding people by producing strong reasons to support positions they dislike or even detest.

        His writing style is a little obtuse and I can see why you would have interpreted his writing the way you have, but he is most definitely not refering to the people who hold the same libertarian perspective he does. If that is what he meant, then his thoughts are not congruent.

        “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; that 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.”

        In a rational argument, it cannot follow that “Many of the people who take a similar position [as Nozick's] are…filled, paradoxically, with resentment at other freer ways of being.”

        Sorry, you would have to give Nozick a very uncharitable read to reach your conclusion.

      • any libertarian should hand over their property to native americans October 24, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

        Collin: your quote is not verbatim. Here is the actual quote:

        “My earlier reluctance is not present in this volume, because it has disappeared. Over time, I have grown accustomed to the views and their consequences, and I now see the political realm through them. (Should I say that they enable me to see through the po­ litical realm?) Since many of the people who take a similar position are narrow and rigid, and filled, paradoxically, with resent­ ment at other freer ways of being, my now having natural responses which fit the theory puts me in some bad company. I do not welcome the fact that most people I know and respect disagree with me, …”

        The people Nozick calls “narrow and rigid and filled, paradoxically, with resentment at other freer ways of being” are other libertarians who at the time of writing took similar positions to Nozick.

        Evidence for that:

        1. Nozick’s phrase “Since many of the people who take a similar position” comes right after the sentence where Nozick mentions “the views and their consequences”. Proximity counts.

        2. If Nozick had, as you claim, here tried to ascribe narrowness and so on to anti-libertarians then the two last sentences do not make sense. Because it does not make sense to both call some persons “bad company” and call the same persons “people I know and respect”. We should assume that Nozick write two sentences next to each other that make sense. Therefore that is evidence against your interpretation and therefore for my stated interpretation.

        3. Nozick has in other places later on expressed very critical views against e.g. randian libertarians. On my interpretation the claims in the quoted text fits those other expressed views. If one interpretation of a claim better coheres with the other clearly stated claims by the same subject then that is evidence for that interpretation.

    • E scott October 17, 2013 at 11:34 am #

      Collin, I’d say you are right about Nozik’s intention and that his obtuse writing isn’t clear. Those he divorces himself from are those still reluctant to accept the libertian creed which he now accepts unreservidly. No longer reluctant he embraces a higher freedom, for which they are resentful.
      Reduced thus, Nozik’s appears to be concealing a spiteful judgement disguised in the appearance of academic intellectuality. His point has no substantiation other than his conviction.
      Regarding the quote about the limits of Government, I’d say he doesn’t consider the freedom of those who have the freedom to choose demeaning wages or not work at all. That’s hardly a choice.
      I agree with minimum government regulation, to which I’d add insuring every citizen has a choice of jobs that support minimum living standards as a prerequisite to individual freedom and to insuring equal economic opportunity, since the natural tendency is to concentrate wealth and power to the detriment and enslavement of everyone else.
      Without such inclusiveness Nozik’s ideas are exactly what Corey Robin says, liberty for the higher orders and constraint for the rest.

  3. JohnB October 16, 2013 at 3:56 am #

    This is so true. The ‘ultracapitalists’ I’ve met over the years are always bitching about being free from governmental constraint. Free, that is, to set up their own private little fiefdoms in which they have no problem lording over some underling, perpetuating the ugly cycle they weirdly, unironically see as necessary.

  4. Chris Read October 16, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    In the introduction to A, S & U he says that he will just take Locke’s theory of private property and ownership to be true and valid without any critical analysis. When we studied the text in 3rd year at Edinburgh University I was always surprised and troubled by this bizarre leap – on which his entire political philosophy is based! But then, why I am even taking his words at face value!

  5. Paul Rosenberg (@PaulHRosenberg) October 16, 2013 at 10:32 am #

    Nice to highlight such a confirming admission. It’s pretty basic, though. Every tyrant in the world has been an advocate of freedom–their own, that is. Likewise, the US was founded on the slaveholders’ love of freedom. It’s one of the reasons why libertarians like Ron & Rand Paul keep turning up in the company of neo-Confererates over and over again.

  6. Roquentin October 16, 2013 at 11:47 am #

    I’ve never read either Nozick or Rawls and if I’m really being honest neither is that high on my already far too long reading list. I think part of that was being exposed to Raymond Geuss, whom I hold in a very high regard, relatively early on and his criticisms of both thinkers. My academic background was never in Poli Sci, but as I understand it the two of them are the sort of kings of the American university system.

    Perhaps it springs from an exhaustion with the attitudes and assumptions most American intellectuals make, because reading people in the “continental” philosophical tradition is something I do simply for fun. Make of it what you will.

  7. Heinrich Esterbody October 16, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    Socialism only equals equality when the government is not corrupt. Equality enforced with an iron fist is no better than slavery. There has to be a way to protect the rights of everyone while letting everyone also perform to their potential and being rewarded, not for their mere existence, but rather for what they contribute.

    • Michael Acuña October 16, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

      Government corruption can be minimized by greater democratic participation and, to the extent we require them, greater accountability of delegates. Of this virtually all libertarian socialists are agreed.

      As for individuals being “rewarded” for their contributions, precisely what do you mean by this? There are certain actions for which we possess control, and therefore should be evaluated on (e.g., our effort), and others which we don’t but which the market nevertheless remunerates handsomely (e.g., genetic endowments which yield physical and/or intellectual advantages, or being born into a privileged environment).

    • Neil October 17, 2013 at 7:51 am #

      ‘rewarded’ – defn.: a conservative’s little pat on the back for supporting the hierarchical status quo; closely associated with the doctrine of meritocracy.

      “… for what they contribute” – ‘contribute’ how? contribute to what?

      “… not for their mere existence …” – lest existence is seen as conferring, possessing any intrinsic value!

      Such statements epitomise for me the absurdity of seeing the right as standing for freedom. How that lie was ever swallowed I don’t know.

  8. Benjamin David Steele October 16, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    Here is a comment I made to a post about libertarianism:

    http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/08/24/libertarianism-rich-white-males-of-the-republican-party/#comment-3210

    …those who already have positive freedom (i.e., inherited privilege and wealth) use negative liberty to defend against other groups from gaining positive freedom. For damn sure, those with inherited privilege and wealth didn’t gain it through mere negative liberty.

    The only thing negative liberty can do is defend the liberty you already have, but it can’t give you freedom if you lack it. So, the demographics in America that have experienced centuries of oppression and disadvantage have a less romantic notion of negative freedom, especially since it was this conception of freedom that was originally used to disenfranchise them of power (such as Lockean land rights being used to justify stealing Native American land or classical liberal free market ideals being used to justify slavery).

  9. Chip Daniels October 16, 2013 at 9:58 pm #

    The dilemma of freedom is that it requires collective action to protect; Libertarianism wants to engage the community in protection of property, yet the community is not invited to add their own terms and conditions to the engagement.

  10. Corey Robin October 17, 2013 at 8:27 am #

    Collin: You write, “His writing style is a little obtuse and I can see why you would have interpreted his writing the way you have, but he is most definitely not refering to the people who hold the same libertarian perspective he does. If that is what he meant, then his thoughts are not congruent….In a rational argument, it cannot follow that ‘Many of the people who take a similar position [as Nozick's] are…filled, paradoxically, with resentment at other freer ways of being.'”

    It’s true that in a rational argument it cannot follow from Nozick’s position that only a minimal state is justified that “many of the people who take a similar position” as Nozick’s are in fact hostile to or resentful of freedom. That’s why Nozick says “paradoxically.” He’s noting for the reader how odd, indeed how incongruent, he thinks it is.

    But what definitely makes no sense, even paradoxically, is for Nozick to say that it is his NEW views that put him in bad company if that company is merely the company that he used to keep. The only way that claim can make any sense is if the bad company to which he refers is the company he now keeps, i.e., libertarians. I’m afraid you’re simply misinterpreting the text.

    • Collin October 17, 2013 at 9:26 am #

      No, the paradox lies in the fact that his friends reject libertarianism despite the fact that it is a freer way to live. He is now in bad company because he has developed arguments with which to rebut those of his friends who hold the above view.

      Directly following the quote initially mentioned in your post, Nozick writes: “I do not welcome the fact that most people I know and respect disagree with me, having outgrown the not wholly admirable pleasure of irritating or dumbfounding people by producing strong reasons to support positions they dislike or even detest.”

      Again, he is referring to those who have rejected libertarianism. This is the bad company in which he finds himself.

      I will admit that both interpretations of his comment are viable. Mine is the most charitable and consistent with his views on the superiority of libertarianism as an ethical system. Yours fits the biased glasses from which you approach his text.

      I would also like to point out that I have been the only one to reference and quote the context from which his statement was made, rather than just referring back to the statement, which was taken out of context.

      • Corey Robin October 17, 2013 at 10:10 am #

        Since I know, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, that you can’t reason a man out of a position he has not reasoned himself into, I’m going to take one more crack at this. After that, I’m afraid, you’re on your own.

        Here is the lead up to the quote from Nozick (the correct lead up, I might add, since you misquoted it above; context is indeed helpful, as you note, but only if you cite it correctly):

        “My earlier reluctance is not present in this volume, because it has disappeared. Over time, I have grown accustomed to the views and their consequences, and I now see the political realm through them. (Should I say that they enable me to see through the political realm?) Since many of the people who take a similar position are narrow and rigid, and filled, paradoxically, with resentment at other freer ways of being, my now having natural responses which fit the theory puts me in some bad company.”

        In the second and third sentences of the graf — i.e., the ones that immediately precede the sentence in question — Nozick refers repeatedly to “their,” “them,” and “they.” These pronouns have an antecedent. That antecedent is libertarianism. Over time, says Nozick, he has grown accustomed to libertarianism and to the consequences of libertarianism, and he now looks at politics through the lends of libertarianism and the consequences of libertarianism. In fact, he adds, perhaps the lens of libertarianism has enabled him to see through the political realm.

        All that, I assume, is crystal clear and not controversial.

        Now, having established that subject matter, he moves onto the next sentence. That sentence begins “Since many of the people who take a similar position….” So the question is: a position similar to what? Now remember: the subject of the immediately preceding two sentences — embedded in all those pronouns (their, them, they) — is libertarianism. Nozick hasn’t talked about anti-libertarian positions since his brief nod to those anti-libertarian positions (“My earlier reluctance”) in the first sentence of the graf.

        What, then, is the more credible interpretation of “a similar position”? That it refers to a position from three sentences prior (i.e., the anti-libertarian position) or that it refers to a position from the two sentences that are immediately prior to this reference? The only rule of interpretation — not the charitable rule, but the only rule — is that he is referring to the position that he has outlined in the two sentences that are immediately prior.

        Now let’s focus, in the sentence in question, on this phrase: “my now having natural responses which fit the theory puts me in some bad company.” I think we can all agree that “my now having natural responses which fit the theory” means that Nozick now has responses that fit the theory of libertarianism. It has to mean that, of course, because otherwise the “now” makes zero sense. He has developed these libertarian views over time; he now has them. Not only that: we know his views, as of the writing of *Anarchy*, were libertarian, so when he says “now,” he means his views are now libertarian.

        Okay, so far, so obvious. But right after establishing that his views are libertarian, he says that those views — or the fact that he has responses to politics that reflect those views — “puts me in some bad company.” So the question is: what puts him in some bad company? Well, the subject of the phrase puts him bad company. And what is the subject of the phrase? The “my now having natural responses which fit the theory.” That is the subject of the phrase. And what is the theory he’s referring to? Well, we’ve just established that it is libertarianism. So what is putting him in some bad company? Libertarianism is putting him in some bad company. Now it can’t be that libertarianism puts him bad company if bad company is the anti-libertarian crowd. No, libertarianism puts him in bad company because the bad company is other libertarians who are, PARADOXICALLY, filled with resentment of other people’s freedom.

        (I suspect who he has in mind here are the southern states’ rights crowds, who use the language of libertarianism to mask their hostility to rights for black people. Remember he is writing this in 1974, not longer after the most violent backlash against the black freedom movement. Lots of libertarians were firm supporters of the southern position.)

        Okay, so let’s add all this up. First you have the two facts that I have already mentioned in my previous comment — a) the invocation of “paradoxically”; b) the reference to his new views. Then you have the issue of the antecedents of the immediately preceding sentences. And then you have the plain language of the sentence itself, which I just examined.

        There’s really no other way to interpret the sentence in question. Again, charitably or otherwise.

    • E scott October 17, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

      A little while ago I agreed with Collin’s reading; now I agree with Corey.

      Libertians and Liberals might agree if minimum government insured every citizen a choice of jobs paying enough to supporting decent living standards as a prerequisite for individual freedom ( choosing between a demeaning job or no job is not freedom) and to insuring equal economic opportunity, since the natural tendency is to increasingly favor wealth and power to the detriment and enslavement of everyone else.
      Without such inclusiveness Nozick ideas are exactly what Corey Robin says, liberty for the higher orders and constraint for the rest.

  11. Neil October 17, 2013 at 8:29 am #

    I recently came across a great quote on a discussion thread which seems entirely appropriate:

    “It makes arguing with reactionaries exceedingly boring – especially as all one ever finds, if one goes to the trouble of untangling their tactical rationalisations, however devious or bumptiously moralistic, is one more greedy little child, eyes closed tight, clinging sullenly to their place in the world.”

  12. Collin October 17, 2013 at 10:54 am #

    Thanks for your in-depth response Corey.

    I would like to add: “Since I know, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, that you can’t reason a man out of a position he has not reasoned himself into, I’m going to take one more crack at this. After that, I’m afraid, you’re on your own.” This may just as well apply to you, especially since you parroted someone else’s interpretation of the quote, rather than coming to the conclusion on your own (as you mention, it had eluded you in your previous readings).

    Finally, I would also like to add that my interpretation of his words relies on a larger context. In my reading, the paragraph prior to the one you quote holds the key.

    The comments in solid brackets [ ] are mine and will be used to clarify my interpretation.

    “Despite the fact that it is only coercive routes toward these goals that are excluded, while voluntary ones remain, many persons will reject our conclusions instantly, knowing they don’t want to believe anything so apparently callous toward the needs and suffering of others. I know that reaction; it was mine when I first began to consider such views [this is the position I believe he is referring to in the following paragraph]. With reluctance, I found myself becoming convinced of (as they are now often called) libertarian views, due to various considerations and arguments. This book contains little evidence of my earlier reluctance. Instead, it contains many of the considerations and arguments, which I present as forcefully as I can. Thereby, I run the risk of offending doubly: for the position expounded, and for the fact that I produce reasons to support this position.

    My earlier reluctance is not present in this volume, because it has disappeared. Over time, I have grown accustomed to the views and their consequences, and I now see the political realm through them [referring to libertarianism] . (Should I say that they enable me to see through the political realm?) Since many of the people who take a similar position [the position he previously held before becoming convinced of libertarianism] are narrow and rigid, and filled, paradoxically, with resentment at other freer ways of being, my now having natural responses [responses to those who disagree with libertarianism, the group mentioned in the previous paragraph and to who he just referred] which fit the theory [libertarian theory] puts me in some bad company [he is in bad company because he can respond to those who hold a paradoxically negative view of libertarianism]. I do not welcome the fact that most people I know and respect disagree with me, having outgrown the not wholly admirable pleasure of irritating or dumbfounding people by producing strong reasons to support positions they dislike or even detest [again, these people are the bad company- those who detest his libertarian ideas, those mentioned in the previous paragraph].”

    Our disagreement stems from our interpretation of the subject in his statement “Since many of the people who take a similar position…”

    Given the context of the prior paragraph, the subject could either be “libertarians,” as you interpret it, or “non-libertarians,” which he cites in the prior paragraph. As I mentioned in my last comment, either interpretation is viable. I believe that my interpretation is the most consistent and charitable to the entirety of his stance, but you do raise an interesting point about a potential reference to the souther state’s rights crowd.

    [You mention that I miss-quoted Nozick's words. Due to the fact that I simply copied them from my kindle edition to paste here, I assume you mean my comments in brackets bastardized his words- I can only add that I was following the format offered by you in the original post]

    • Corey Robin October 17, 2013 at 11:40 am #

      I’m afraid you’ve misread things again, Collin. First, I didn’t say that the interpretation of the passage eluded me on previous occasions; I said that the passage itself eluded me. I just didn’t see it. What John Holbo alerted me to was the passage itself. Second, you ask about your misquotation. If you read Nozick’s original text — which I cite in my previous comment — and your original reproduction of the text, you’ll see how you misquoted it. Your bracketed materials were not the problem; it was the quoted material. Again, just take the time to read and compare the two passages (the original and your reproduction of it), and you’ll see your error.

      • Collin October 17, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

        I am afraid you misread me as well Corey. I mentioned that you simply repeated someone else’s conclusion about the quote (John Holbo, and the insertion of “libertarian” where it did not previously sit). As an addendum, I added that the passage had eluded you (had not read the passage), proof that you had not reached your own conclusion on the passage prior to hearing his opinion.

        I am sure that if you just take the time to read my quote conscientiously you’ll see your error.

        But now we are just trying to roast one another…

      • Paul Rosenberg (@PaulHRosenberg) October 17, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

        Collin–Now you’re adding false balance to your list of sins.

        Why not quit while you’re behind, as opposed to when you’re obliterated?

  13. Corey Robin October 17, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

    Collin: I think I now see what the problem is here. You don’t understand the rules of antecedents.

    Here’s what you wrote in the comment before last: “You parroted someone else’s interpretation of the quote, rather than coming to the conclusion on your own (as you mention, it had eluded you in your previous readings).” That “it” in your parenthetical phrase has to refer to something. The rules of antecedents dictate that the referent of a pronoun is the immediately preceding noun. In your case, the immediately preceding noun is “someone else’s interpretation of the quote.” So what you’re saying, whether you intend to or not, is that someone else’s interpretation of the quote is what eluded me on previous readings. But as I said in my previous comment, what eluded me was not John’s interpretation but the passage itself. I gather from your response to me now that you meant to say that what eluded me was the passage itself, but that, alas, is not what you said.

    I wouldn’t dwell on this but it’s a pattern with you. You don’t understand how antecedents work — not even in your own prose — and that’s how you can come up with such a tortured interpretation of what Nozick meant.

    I have no problem with having an argument about interpretation, but first you need to learn these basic rules of grammar. This isn’t a roast; it’s a statement of fact, a fact that makes further conversation difficult.

    • Collin October 17, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

      I tried to verify your antecedent rule- its always good to site sources when educating. Here is your proposition: “the rules of antecedents dictate that the referent of a pronoun is the immediately preceding noun”.

      Alas, upon a quick google search, this is all I could find: “No rule states that a pronoun must refer to the immediately preceding noun.”

      http://www.grammar.com/antecedents-placement-of-pronouns/

      But you have taken us quite astray recently from the topic at hand…

      To the point- we have both presented our interpretations of the quote. I still maintain that, while my interpretation and yours are plausible, mine is the most charitable and consistent with the rest of his work. You maintain that your interpretation is correct and mine is flawed because I am referencing to an inappropriate antecedent (I hope I used that world correctly). I suggest we agree to disagree and stop wasting one another’s time on this topic.

      • E scott October 18, 2013 at 9:45 am #

        Colin, it seems to me your interpretation is less charitable because your Nozick shed the burden of empathy for an ideal of freedom. He is right, They are wrong.
        Corey, on the other hand, respects Nozick’s sanity but disagrees on a fundamental level. His Nozick hasn’t eliminated empathy in his personal universe, but continues the Conservative tradition that recognizes cruelty, yet argues the conservative understanding is more in tune with human nature, fundamentally.
        Corey’s Nozick can say “yes, I’m in bad company as we all really are, but my understanding of freedom will ultimately work out better than yours. It understands human nature better.”
        One can’t argue with Colin’s Nozick. Corey’s Nozick still retains the authority of sensibility.

      • Collin October 18, 2013 at 10:43 am #

        Hi E scott, thanks for your comments.

        I would just like to clarify my usage of the word charitable. I am referring to the principle of charity, which “requires interpreting a speaker’s statements to be rational and, in the case of any argument, considering its best, strongest possible interpretation.”

        The statement, “Many of the people who take a similar position [as Nozick's] are…filled, paradoxically, with resentment at other freer ways of being,” seems uncharitable to me because it requires Nozick to maintain a position of cognitive dissonance- “I believe my position to be the freest way of being, but I understand that other people who maintain my same position resent freer ways of being. This means my stance is not the freest and my original position that is WAS the freest cannot be correct.” To assume Nozick is referring to those who share his own beliefs is to argue that his position is illogical because he cannot believe simultaneously that his principles are both the freest and not the freest. If we replace the insertion of “Nozick” with “those who maintain anti-libertarian beliefs” into the quote, we have a much more charitable and rationally consistent interpretation.

  14. Malatesta October 18, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

    Collin, dude, come on. Your reading makes no sense at all. Seriously. It renders the whole passage into nonsense.

    Nozick is saying that he thinks these then-new views of his are right and that he has good reasons for believing so. However, other people who hold similar views are kinda stupid, and in a paradoxical and ridiculous manner, actually sort of hate freedom. So the fact that his new views that he’s gotten accustomed to holding lead him to sound like those assholes makes him a bit uncomfortable. But he is no longer willing to be reluctant about expressing the views he thinks are right, even though many people who hold similar ones are dumb as fucking rocks and the smart people he respects hold opposite views.

    The fact that other people are idiots has no relation to the truth-value of claims.

    This is not complicated.

    • Paul Rosenberg (@PaulHRosenberg) October 18, 2013 at 8:16 pm #

      It’s not complicated. But it’s embarrassing. And that’s a complication.

  15. Donald Pruden, Jr. a/k/a, The Enemy Combatant October 18, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

    “Despite the fact that it is only coercive routes toward these goals that are excluded, while voluntary ones remain, many persons will reject out conclusions instantly, know they don’t want to believe anything so apparently callous toward the needs and suffering of others. I know that reaction; it was mine when I first began to consider such views. With reluctance, I found myself becoming convinced of (as they are now often called) libertarian views, due to various considerations and arguments. This book contains little evidence of my earlier reluctance. Instead, it contains many of the considerations and arguments, which I present as forcefully as I can. Thereby, I run the risk of offending doubly: for the position expounded, and for the fact that I produce reasons to support this position.

    “My earlier reluctance is not present in this volume, because it has disappeared. Over time, I have grown accustomed to the views and their consequences, and I now see the political realm through them. (Should I say that they enable me to see through the political realm?) Since many of the people who take a similar position are narrow and rigid, and filled, paradoxically, with resentment at other freer ways of being, my now having natural responses which fit the theory puts me in some bad company. I do welcome the fact that most of the people I know and respect disagree with me, having outgrow the not wholly admirable pleasure of irritating or dumbfounding people by producing strong reasons to support positions they dislike or even detest.”

    This is an exact quote, which I had to type because I could not cut and paste it onto a word doc that would then allow me to follow it with my own commentary. This is the source, and it is a pdf file of a Xerox copy of the physical book, for those who wish to read it for themselves, without brackets, commentary or editing by us axe-grinders: http://socioline.ru/files/5/315/nozick_robert_-_anarchy_state_and_utopia.pdf

    Now, the let the grinding begin.

    Nozick claims that only coercive routes are excluded. Tell that to the Iraqis or the Chileans. It is worth noting that no society ever tasted libertarian politics as a fact of lived existence without staggering violence having first been visited upon the most defenseless populations on Earth. Secondly, the reason Nozick’s book contains little evidence of his earlier reluctance to accept libertarian philosophy is because he does not wish that the volume in question would face its own contradictions or become an unwitting weapon in the hands of the libertarian’s natural enemies: people who believe in justice, equity and compassion as trumps to property rights. The fact of the matter is that Nozick clearly remembers the basis of his reluctance, a reluctance sustained by those who reject libertarianism because of its perceived callousness for the interests of the weak and the suffering, and its defense of those who inflict pain upon them. He remembers those arguments and he cannot shake them; charitably, I would strongly suggest that they inform his philosophy (hence, his libertarian utopia-minimalist state enjoins against “aggression”). What I cannot account for is why this reluctance disappeared. Maybe someone who knows Nozick’s personal biography can help me out here.

    But let’s get to the meat of the issue.

    The “people who take a similar position are narrow and rigid, and filled, paradoxically, with resentment at other freer ways of being” are clearly Nozick’s libertarian comrades. Obtuse he may be, but not in this passage. To understand the phrase “similar position” as meaning similar to Nozick’s pre-libertarian position – that is, similar to those who reject libertarianism due to libertarianism’s “callousness” – rather than meaning “similar” to that of other, contemporary, libertarians, is to strategically misunderstand Nozick. And to do so for his, and libertarianism’s, advantage.

    The giveaway is simple: the first sentence in the second paragraph quoted above is separated by two back to back sentences from the fourth “resentment” sentence. Those two sentences refer to his new libertarian views – and each sentence in its own way makes direct reference to his ability to “see” the political realm and to “see through” the political realm exactly because of his libertarianism. He is clearly claiming that libertarianism has opened his eyes, permitting him to see. And he uses two sentences to suggest this. Indeed, that first sentence in the second paragraph leads up the next two: his reluctance toward libertarianism has disappeared; and this is because libertarianism has made him able to see.

    After this, we are suppose to believe that in the fourth sentence – the “resentment” sentence – Nozick has suddenly leaped backward over both sentence three and sentence two in that ‘graph in order to make reference to a “reluctance” [to accept libertarianism] that has disappeared in himself, merely in order suggest that those who currently sustain such a reluctance are “narrow and rigid, and filled, paradoxically, with resentment at other freer ways of being”? By what linguistic acrobatics is that construction possible?

    Rather than asking his readers to somehow semantically stitch together sentence one and sentence four by making use of the (differing) objects in each sentence (and to edit out sentences two and three between them, so that this can be effectuated) would it not be simpler for Nozick to have written that the rejecters of libertarianism are “narrow and rigid, and filled, paradoxically, with resentment at other freer ways of being”? Of course, had he written it that clearly he would not have used the word “paradoxically”. Indeed, the crucial sentence itself (again, sentence four in ‘graph two quoted above) gives absolutely no clue as to how to connect it to sentence one, the “reluctance” sentence. Nozick is clearly a very smart and thoughtful guy; please don’t insult us or him by suggesting that he could not have considered a clearer way to write that libertarianism’s opponents are indeed “narrow and rigid, and filled with resentment at other freer ways of being.”, if this is what he wanted to convey. That he did not is telling.

    And because Nozick’s writing does not suggest any evident, semantically coherent, connection between sentences one and four in the quoted second ‘graph – and absolutely no cause of any sort to intuit such – the thought in the reader’s mind upon hitting the phrase “many of the people who take a similar position” is to connect the sentence that contains it to its immediate antecedent sentence. That would be the smart thing to do since that antecedent sentence has an object that would justify such a connection: Nozick’s newfound libertarianism. “Similar position” must perforce refer to the libertarianism that has opened Nozick’s eyes, and not to the “reluctance” to accept libertarianism which is separated from it by two entire sentences that each extol the eye-opening virtues of libertarianism. It is therefore by this means that Nozick is able to badmouth his libertarian comrades as “are narrow and rigid, and filled, paradoxically, with resentment at other freer ways of being”.

    If it were not clear enough, the use of the word “paradoxically” is the “gimme” to the reader. There is no paradox in that others who disagree with one would be “narrow and rigid” and filled “with resentment at other freer ways of being”. Rigidity and resentment at other freer ways of being go together in those that DON’T agree with one; they are, however, “paradoxical” in those who shares one’s own beliefs and ideals and philosophy, especially since Nozick then goes on to make a case for those beliefs and ideals and philosophy. This is what makes it paradoxical to Nozick; and it is this paradox-icality that stumps him.

    Therefore, contrary to one of the respondents here, it is perfectly rational to write negative things about people whose views and ideals are the same as one’s own – and then write entire, thought provoking books in defense of those very views and ideals. By citing in his libertarian cohorts their rigidity and their resentment at freer ways of being he, at the very least, implicates libertarianism itself. It is also quite rational to believe that one’s own beliefs find welcome in those who are “narrow and rigid, and filled, paradoxically, with resentment at other freer ways of being”. It causes one to think carefully about one’s own beliefs, and Nozick has clearly done this. It does not necessarily mean that he must now reject them because of it. But it was honest of him to bring it up, was it not?

    Seriously, who else could Nozick be referring to when his “natural responses which fit the theory puts me in some bad company”? What bad company? People who disagree with him, those reluctant and revolted by libertarianism? It is not that hard to figure out: this “bad company” is HIS bad company. It would be irrational to infer that the “bad company” he keeps is composed of people who are repelled by libertarianism. Are they “bad company” because these people disagree with him (making them “bad”) while he holds them dear (making them “company”)? Or, are they “bad company” because their own beliefs may be problematic to more sensitive and compassionate types, the types that are likely to be repelled by beliefs that they perceive as “apparently callous toward the needs and suffering of others”?

    Please, let us credit Nozick with honesty: if he keeps “bad COMPANY”, it is because that company likes what he says and is attracted to him because of it – and he calls them “BAD company” because he (and/or other persons) may not like other things about them.

    I apologize for my nitpick-ery, and my long-windedness, but an intervention was needed. Nozick deserves at least that much respect.

    • Collin October 19, 2013 at 1:27 am #

      “I do not welcome the fact that most of the people I know and respect disagree with me, having outgrow the not wholly admirable pleasure of irritating or dumbfounding people by producing strong reasons to support positions they dislike or even detest.”

      If we follow Corey’s antecedent rule, the people he is referring to are the people in the previous sentence, those filled with the paradoxical resentment.

      So, who are the people he is referring to? If he is referring to his libertarian friends, as you suppose, then the disagreement to which he refers lies in whether libertarianism is the freest way of being. Why would his libertarian friends not believe that it is the freest way of being? This would be to assume they are irrational.

      What a strange argument to have- Nozick: “We are both libertarians, but you assume that libertarianism isn’t the freest way of being. Let me try to explain to you why it is the freest way of being.” His friend: “No, you are wrong, I am a libertarian, but I know it isn’t the freest way to live. Libertarianism is about liberty, not freedom… oh, wait…”

      If it is referring to his non-libertarian friends, it is easier to see where the disagreement lies.

      Again, both interpretations are viable and I have provided my reasoning as have those on the other side. If my position was clearly “ridiculous,” others wouldn’t have wasted thousands of words defending against a ludicrous view.

      Please, let us all move on to more important things in life.

      This will be my final post on this topic.

      • Paul Rosenberg (@PaulHRosenberg) October 19, 2013 at 2:47 am #

        You’re forgetting those of us in the popcorn gallery, Collin. We knew it was futile to argue with you in the first place. But we like a good farce as long as the snacks last.

      • Collin October 19, 2013 at 3:15 am #

        (I had a feeling those who couldn’t make a reasoned argument would show their fangs after my last post…)

    • ed scott October 24, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

      Donald, you have it excruciatingly right.
      Collin’s logical mind can’t accept the dissonance of sharing “truth” with “bad company”. Of course this is common. For instance a Christian or a Jew might make the same paradoxical observation as Nozick; or even a few Liberals.

  16. Cat Food October 20, 2013 at 1:02 am #

    Ron Paul did this neat trick during a speech some time ago where he pointed out that technically, under an anarcho-capitalist system there would be nothing that would prevent workers from organizing themselves into voluntary socialist communes. Thus, as he put it, communism is perfectly compatible with anarcho-capitalism, whereas capitalism would have no place under communism. Of course, Paul’s bet here is that most workers would never desire voluntary socialism, a questionable conclusion. But, I guess that would still be a rebuttal of sorts to Nozick’s issue.

    • Benjamin David Steele October 20, 2013 at 2:25 am #

      I’d quibble with a couple of not so minor points.

      First, ideologies are only ever pure in theory, never in practice.

      Anarcho-capitalism could only allow for communism to the degree that there were key ideological elements of communism within anarcho-capitalism. That key part would be anarchism which historically has had a closer relationship to socialism than to capitalism.

      Anarchism and capitalism don’t naturally fit together and so anarcho-capitalism is a bit of a forced invention, a mishmash of conflicting parts. The greater the anarchism in anarcho-capitalism the more communism is likely to arise within it.

      So, in Ron Paul’s ideal anarcho-capitalism, is anarchism the dominant framework for the capitalism or the other way around? Or to put it another way, if some element of anarchism conflicted with some element of capitalism, which would he be most willing to sacrfice?

      Second, is capitalism possible under communism? It depends on how you define these ideologies.

      When Milwaukee was run by sewer socialists for about a half century, capitalism continued to operate and the local economy did very well. As I understand it, they created a socialist framework which discouraged and prosecuted corrupt business practices and what they deemed unethical businesses while supporting and working closely with local business owners. For example, they got rid of gambling and prostitution and also weakened criminal influences both in the economy and in politics.

      One could argue capitalism functioned better in Milwaukee after socialists took power than before, assuming one doesn’t favor the corrupt capitalism that was common in the Gilded Age prior to the Milwaukee sewer socialists.

      • Alto Berto (@AltoBerto) November 10, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

        Ron Paul is a Randroid, say what you will but he named his son after her. He has major investments in gold and never fails to mention that commodity when on air. Anarcho Capitalism is just part of the umbrella under which he pitched his “End the Fed” gold pitching tent.

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