Libertarianism and Liberalism:
Hayek’s theory of liberalism shows that he has defended classical liberalism but not unconditionally. He makes certain modifications which are in tune with the prevailing circumstances. We shall now focus our attention on Nozick’s theory of libertarianism. Before that we, however, like to clear one point—is there any difference between liberalism and libertarianism? We have defined and analysed liberalism. Now we shall see what is libertarianism.
In the opinion of COD libertarianism is an extreme laissez-faire political philosophy advocating only minimal state intervention in the lives of citizens. This dictionary meaning has been fully endorsed by the political scientists and political philosophers. A recent critic’s (Andrew Heywood) definition may be quoted here: “Libertarianism refers to a range of theories that give strict priority to liberty over other values such as authority, tradition and equality. Libertarians thus seek to maximising the realm of individual freedom and minimise the scope of public authority, typically seeing the state as the principal threat to liberty”.
Apparently there is no distinction between libertarianism and liberalism but a close scrutiny of these two concepts reveals that there is a difference. Libertarianism, it is being held by many, is an extreme form of liberalism. Libertarianism views liberty in negative sense. It offers a long list of “dos” and “do nots” on the part of the state and, needless to say, that the latter far exceeds the former.
Thus libertarianism makes the state almost a puppet political organisation. Even libertarianism does not recognise the place or influence of social order. Human freedom, according to libertarianism, is the last word about any political organisation and its relation to individuals.
Libertarianism not only gives priority to individual freedom but it demands that it should be protected and flourished at any cost. If the individuals are allowed to protect and enjoy their liberty in a maximum way the power and authority of the state should be minimised. It thus appears to us that in view of libertarianism the individuals shall enjoy maximum liberty and the stable shall have minimum power. All the social and political organisations shall be restructured in such a way as to achieve this goal.
But libertarianism cannot be equated with anarchism. The latter pronounces the idea of winding-up the state because it is unnecessary. On the other hand, libertarianism advocates the utility of state, but that utility is minimum. On this consideration, libertarians have argued for a minimal state theory.
Robert Nozick (1938-2002) is a great apostle of libertarianism. Dr. Amartya Sen in his recent work, Development as Freedom (2000) points out that Nozick has given priority to rights which is a demanding version of libertarianism. But in his latter years he has been found to support a type of liberalism which is slightly different from libertarianism.
Several Aspects of Libertarianism:
The State and Libertarianism:
We have just now concluded an analysis which throws briefly some light on libertarianism and in this background we shall see Nozick’s theory of libertarianism. An important aspect of his libertarianism is the theory of minimal state. Earlier we referred to night watchman state which implies that the chief task of the state is confined to providing security and taking measures against violence, theft and fraud. It is also its duty to enforce contract and laws that are designed to achieve above aims.
Beyond these specifications the state will have nothing to do and if it makes any attempt to cross this limitation liberties and rights of the individuals will face challenge. In Nozick’s book we find: “…a minimal state limited to the narrow functions ….. is justified,…. that any more extensive state will violate person’s rights not to be forced to do certain things, and is justified, and the minimal state is inspiring as well as right”.
From this statement of Nozick we can draw few conclusions:
(1) A minimal state is one which tries to satisfy itself by discharging minimum functions. Nozick does not think that beyond this the state has anything to do.
(2) Like the classical liberals, Nozick assumes that the individuals are rational and reasonable and capable to safeguard their rights and liberties. If the individuals fails to protect their rights then and then only the state’s responsibility arises; otherwise the state will maintain its neutrality.
There is a very common argument that for the purpose of general welfare the state should interfere with the freedom of the individual. It is not surprising that Nozick has rejected this argument outright. He says: “the state may not use its coercive apparatus for the purpose of getting some citizens to aid others or in order to prohibit activities to people for their own good or protection”.
Nozick claims that he has taken the anarchist view of state at least partially. Anarchist thinkers oppose tooth and nail the power or coercive power of state. Although Nozick does not subscribe to the view of anarchists he admits that there are reasons in anarchism. He says that by imposing its decisions upon the citizens or forcing them to do something the state will violate the rights of the individuals and this act of the state is immoral.
The anarchists also called the application of monopoly power by the state immoral. The difference between anarchist and Nozick is that the latter allows minimum use of power. Nozick apprehends that if anarchist theory of state is strictly adhered to ultimately people’s liberty may face problem. There will be none to check fraud or violence. So in his views minimal state and libertarianism are both compatible conceptions.
Ultra-minimal State and Libertarianism:
Nozick has devised another concept of state and it is ultra-minimal state. He defines: “we can imagine at least one social arrangement intermediate between the scheme of private protective associations and the night watchman state. Since the night watchman state is often called minimal state we call this other arrangement the ultra-minimal state. An ultra-minimal state maintains a monopoly over all the use of force …….. but it provides protection and enforcement services only to those who purchase its protection and enforcement policies”.
In the scheme of ultra-minimal state some people enter into contract with the protective agency or the agency of the ultra-minimal state for the purchase of protection. Some people pay extra funds for the protection they get from the ultra-minimal state authority. Here some people will receive the protection of rights in exchange of money they spend. But, at the same time, other’s rights get violated.
Nozick’s observatism is, A proponent of ultra-minimal state may seem to occupy an inconsistent position…….. Greatly concerned to protect rights against violation, he makes this the legitimate function of the state, and he protests that all other functions are illegitimate because they themselves involve the violation of rights. Since he accords paramount place to the protection of rights how can he support the ultra-minimal state which would leave some persons’ rights unprotected”.
Inviolability and Libertarianism:
An important aspect of libertarianism explained and illustrated by Nozick is that he has emphasised the inviolability of individuals which also indicates inviolability of individuals’ rights and liberties. In this connection he refers to Kant’s (1724-1804) famous words—individuals are ends and not merely means.
The means or tool is something other than the individuals. Most of the philosophers treat the state as a tool and the individual as ends. This denotes individuals cannot be used and sacrificed for the attainment of the objectives of others. If the question of sacrifice arises, the consent of the concerned individuals shall be obtained.
This is the exact situation. Robert Nozick impresses on us that liberty or consent of the individuals is of prime importance and that cannot be ignored. John Locke said the same thing—on every sphere of body politic beginning from its formation right up to the day-to-day administration the consent of the individuals must be sought and Nozick has endorsed Locke’s argument. Some have argued that for the sake of social good some persons may be asked to make sacrifice for others. But Nozick refuses to buy this argument.
His argument is that “there is no social entity with a good that undergoes some sacrifice for its own good”. He concludes that there is no justified sacrifice of some of us for others” (emphsis added). To summarise the argument one individual cannot be sacrificed for another—he and his rights are inviolable.
Entitlement and Libertarianism:
The most important part of Nozick’s theory of libertarianism is his theory of entitlement. Dr. Amartya Sen in his recent book (Freedom as Development) says, “I return to the issue of complete priority of rights including property rights in the more demanding versions of libertarian theory. For example, in Nozick’s theory, the entitlements that people have through the exercise of these rights cannot, in general, be overweighed because of their results”. Dr. Sen calls the rights described by Nozick as the “uncompromising priority of libertarian rights”. Nozick’s theory of libertarianism is, in fact, based (largely) on his theory of entitlement—entitlement to property.
The right to property or the entitlement to property can be traced to Locke. If we thoroughly study the arguments advanced by Nozick we shall find that he is definitely uncompromising towards the enjoyment of rights, particularly right to property.
The right of individuals to property is inviolable which means that this right cannot be aggressed upon by others. For this reason Prof. Sen calls it “uncompromising priority”. According to Nozick entitlement to property is based on acquisition. This may be of three different types. One is original acquisition. It means that people acquire property or holding through the process of acquiring un-held property or things.
This most probably relates to the holdings of the state of nature discussed by Locke. When the people abandoned the state of nature and laid the foundation of civil society there was large amount of un-held property which people acquired and their rights upon the property were firmly established.
The right of the original acquirer cannot be violated. Property can again be acquired through transfer. One can transfer his property to his next generation or to any owner person and if this is legally done the transfer is also legal and the owner of the property has complete right over this property. This right cannot be violated.
On the issue of the transfer of property and the establishment of right on it Nozick’s analysis covers several aspects and most important of them are theory of justice, theory of right and the theory of libertarianism. Once a man’s right on property or holding is completely established, he is fully entitled to right—the right to have property and to use it for his personal purposes and he will even have the right to bequeath it to anybody.
Nozick claims that the entitlement theory has far reaching implications. It not only establishes the right of the individual to property, it also justifies the liberty to use the holding according to his wishes. If an individual receives a just holding in the just way then the right and liberty will be uncompromising— this is libertarianism.
Libertarianism and Utopia:
For the proper functioning and development of libertarianism Nozick has devised three types of state because only in a state there can exist libertarianism. The first type is minimal state. The second type is ultra-minimal state which is to some extent extensive state, and finally the Utopian state.
According to Nozick the minimal state is legitimate and justified because the rights and liberties of the individuals are not generally violated. The state (minimal) has not been given any power to intervene the rights and liberties. But the extensive state cannot be justified. He argues that extensive state is morally justified, but it violates the rights of the individuals.
Finally, there remains a state which fulfills the aspiration of Utopian in nature. There is a “morally favoured state, the only morally legitimate state, the only morally tolerable state is the one that best realises the Utopian aspirations of untold dreamers and visionaries”.
In the light of Nozick’s analysis we can hold the view that only in a utopia libertarianism can flourish. Nozick is very cautious and he proceeds very cautiously. The concept of Utopian state, though used in a restricted sense, can best serve the aspirations and imaginations of citizens.
In the last chapter of his book Anarchy, State and Utopia he has elaborated the scheme and practical working of the Utopia. This concept of Nozick is highly provocative but not above criticism. A large number of critics disagree with Nozick because they do not believe that a utopia can be in conformity with the protection of liberty.
Routes to Utopia:
Nozick in unambiguous term has stated that if we actively consider the multiplicity of individuals’ behaviour, attitude, aspirations and fascinations, we shall find that only a state reorganised on the model of utopia can serve our purpose. Hence Utopia is the final word so far as libertarianism is concerned. Now the problem is how to make the utopia a reality?
Nozick suggests different routes to Utopia:
(1) The first has been stated by Nozick in the following way. The first solution is Meta-utopia. “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 realised first if more particular Utopian visions are to be realised stably”.
The fact is that within the vast compass of meta-utopia people will have enough opportunities and freedoms and this meta-utopia will be considerably suitable for all sections of people having different outlooks, attitudes etc. They will also have scope to make experiments on various issues.
In the second place, there shall be provision of several communities and the individuals shall have freedom to select any one of the communities which will be in conformity with their values and ideas. There shall exist no command system and all the communities will peacefully coexist.
John Gray, interpreting Nozick’s views, calls these communities institutions. Nozick calls this arrangements as smorgasbord conception of utopia. Smorgasbord means a range of open sandwiches and savory delicacies. We can summarily say that Nozick’s proposed utopia is unique and it is capable of meeting all sorts of demands of all individuals or most of them.
“The third route to the framework for utopia is based on the fact that people are complex”. Nozick has drawn our attention to the numerous diverse characteristics of men. It is as complex as webs. Nozick makes the following observation: “Given the enormous complexity of man his many desires, aspirations, impulses, talents, mistakes, loves, silliness, given the thickness of his intertwined and interrelated levels, facets, relationships and given the complexity of interpersonal institutions and relationships and the complexity of coordination of actions of many people, it is enormously unlikely that it could be arrived at in this a priori fashion”.
Nozick wants to emphasise that any modern state is very complex and there is no way to eliminate these multiple characters of men. It is practically impossible to build up a utopia embracing all these diverse features. But there is no scope to wipe out all these features. Nozick’s moot point is that a libertarian society is to be structured admitting them.
We have already referred to the idea of meta-utopia floated by Nozick. People will make Utopian experiments and after adopting the process of elimination they will decide on the utopia which will suit their temperament, attitude, talents, impulses, aspirations etc. He calls the process of elimination filtering process. There are several alternatives and out of them the most appropriate alternative will be selected by the people.
In the method of selection the people will take the assistance of their past experience and acquired knowledge. Here by alternatives we mean different societies. People will scan various aspects of these societies, they may criticise some and finally select one which they think most suitable for them. An important precondition of structuring an appropriate Utopia is there must exist many communities with various structures and aims.
In the process of selection and restructure of community, Nozick says, people will have abundant freedom; they will have sufficient knowledge about their aim and the working of the communities. Nozick has made a detailed analysis about several aspects of the formation of utopia. Our point is by suggesting a utopia and its administration Nozick has placed himself at the front row of libertarian or at the top position. He is really an uncompromising libertarian and we can say this stand makes him an impractical libertarian.