The Right Wing IV: Neither Purest Liberty Nor the State, Research Time, 20/09/2014

Continued from previous . . . This is where I had a feeling my engagement with Robert Nozick would go, and from the first page of Anarchy, State, and Utopia, my prediction has actually been pretty accurate. Now, a lot of this comes from reading about Nozick. I think I’ve probably read more about Nozick than I’ve read actual Nozick at this point.

Reading Nozick gives me the sense of communing
with a brilliant mind, with whom I share virtually
I read that short excerpt from Anarchy, State, and Utopia in Dr Simpson’s class, read a single essay of his about retributive justice after an older professor unintentionally offended me with his attitude toward a younger colleague making an unorthodox point about retributive justice, and that’s it. As for reading about Nozick, I’ve read encyclopedia articles, secondary material that references him, engaged in many discussions with professors who’ve read more of this work, read this fascinating article, and this hilarious webcomic. I’ve also taken part in casual conversations with people whose world-views are profoundly influenced by Nozick’s ideas.

Yet, as I all-too-late-for-my-own-credibility-as-a-critic read Nozick in detail for the first time, I already find myself opposed to the very beginning of his approach. The strong individualism of the human race that Nozick approves is anathema to me. Individuals carry rights, yes, but he prioritizes these rights that one not be violated to such a degree that responsibilities disappear. 

He says, referring to the idea as a clearly true principle, that one is under no obligation to sacrifice one’s own wealth and property to help others, and that forcing you into this obligation violates your rights. I agree that it is a violation of your freedom to force you to give of your own wealth to help those who have little (or work toward changes to a global economic ecology that enforces harmful inequalities and material injustices). 

But, in contrast with Nozick, I say that it is a dereliction of your moral responsibilities as a person to restrict your world to such a degree that even the greatest wealth aids only one's family, is stingy with employees, and neglects one’s urban neighbours in poverty. This perspective, privileging an ethical responsibility to improve one’s wider world, doesn’t even seem to appear in Nozick’s thinking. As far as he’s concerned, you can either choose to give of yourself to others or choose to neglect them; redistributive state activity coerces those who would prefer to neglect because it forcibly takes their choice away. The condemnation of the neglectful as moral reprobates doesn’t occur to Nozick’s framework.

From Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie's hilarious take on how
ridiculous and terrifying a privatized police service (or rather,
a privately held dominant protective association) would be.
This ethical blindness (or rather, blindness to ethics, as I understand it, in the Spinozist sense) lies in his reliance on John Locke for his main source of social contract theory. If the fundamental principle of social/political unity* is the contract among autonomous individuals, then you’ll always understand individuality as primary and social links themselves as inessential or less important. 

* Another aspect of Nozick’s thinking that I find strange is his depiction of anarchism as an a-political society. That is, because there is no state in an anarchistic society, there can be no politics. So politics is defined from the start in terms of the state. I, meanwhile, define politics as any kind of jockeying for military, economic, or moral power in society. In this, the state is less prominent in my own thinking than in that of the paradigm modern libertarian. A little ironic.

Nozick would appear to write in the context of there being only two choices in politics: emphasize individuals and their rights to liberty, or emphasize society as a unified mass body whose expression is the state and the power of the state to demand sacrifices of individuals for the whole. 

Network politics (the new, positive approach to anarchism) knows this is a false choice. The aggregate is constituted from individuals, but the social institutions, frameworks, relations, and obligations that arise from the aggregation of individuals creates a real complex body called society that changes the nature of those individuals. This way of thinking completely changes your priorities. To be continued . . . 

No comments:

Post a Comment