Nozick's Minimalism

Dan Fabulich (
Mon, 14 Dec 1998 15:58:17 -0500

I only just recently picked up Robert Nozick's _Anarchy, State and Utopia_. I was particularly interested in his approach to the question of PPL.

When thinking about anarcho-capitalism, I've been of the opinion that most of the time the separate PPAs wouldn't be fighting, but rather would agree to mutual arbitration. In this way, PPL would result. Nozick's approach seems to be essentially this: Two PPAs which have agreed to mutual arbitration are essentially one federation of PPAs, a Private Protection Federation (PPF). [Actually, Nozick calls this an ultra-minimalist state.] The PPF makes the laws for all of those who participate in it.

At that point, there is a great deal of incentive for everyone in a given area to be operating under one and only one PPF. After all, I can think of only two ways to resolve conflict between two PPFs: merging into one PPF,
(which, by definition, is what would happen if they agreed to mutual
arbitration,) or combat.
Worse, since no valid PPA could allow its citizens to be attacked at will, no PPF can allow any other PPF to form within its boundaries: either the PPFs would have to merge (at which point you've still got only one PPF) or they'd have to fight. This PPF would be a government because it denied other PPFs from forming within its area.

Interestingly, my sense of Nozick's argument is that this transition from a plurality of PPAs into a unified PPF is an ethical one. The monopoly is a natural monopoly; coercive measures are unnecessary to create it. HOWEVER, he also argues that the transition from a single PPF to a minimalist libertarian state is also ethically mandatory: since the main PPF denies others the right to form PPFs in its territory, the main PPF must compensate everyone whom it denies that right; in the same way that if you wanted everyone in your area to quit smoking, for fear that the second-hand smoke might give you lung cancer, you would (or should) have to compensate everyone in the area for denying them their right to smoke. In this case, everyone in a PPF's area is denied the right to defend themselves except through the PPF. People should then be able to choose how they are compensated: Nozick argues that the most efficient compensation the PPF could provide would be protection. Ultimately, people must either accept the PPF's protection or accept transfer payments from the PPF and be *totally unable to protect themselves in any way whatsoever.* Since the latter is untenable (how are you going to prevent your transfer payments from being stolen from you when you're not allowed to protect yourself?), PPFs would be mandatorily required to offer people protection in their area.

This approach is innovative, and one for which I don't have an effective response. My first thought would be that, by this definition, all of the nations of the world that aren't currently at war are operating under a PPF... I'm not sure what consequences this might have on the argument.

Additionally, what if my right to protect myself is worth more to me than the protection a PPF can provide? Presumably, then, the PPF would have to pay me to leave. If so, how could a market mechanism be developed by which a fair price could be determined?