Thursday, May 31, 2012

Robert Nozick's "State-of-Nature Theory, or How to Back into a State without Really Trying": A Summary

So let's start with the state of nature. I'm pretty sure my boy Locke got it mostly right about how a government state emerges from the state of nature. The one problem is that the whole "social contract" thing is kind of a myth, right? It's not like everybody signs the contract - like 14 white dudes signed a thing and then suddenly this thing binds everyone? That's some bullshit. We have to find a way to let people sign up for realsies.

Now look. In the state of nature, shit can get a little crazy from time to time. You're minding your own business farming when suddenly OH NO MARAUDERS MARAUDING YOUR FARM, and you have to protect yourself. Eventually, maybe people get together and decide, "hey guys, it's pretty fucking rough out there, why don't we work together? Pool our resources?" Now when your farm gets marauded, some guys with guns protect you because you paid them to do that. And if you have an issue with someone within the group, then the group just forms a court rather than fighting, so no one gets their skull crushed over some pigs eating some daisies. And maybe the group also decides on some rules to follow so no one is left in the dark about what rights they do and don't have. Are the rules more restrictive than the state of nature? Well, fucking obviously, because rules are more restrictive than no rules, that's what makes them rules. But that's a small sacrifice and in exchange they'll fuck the shit up of anyone who tries to mess with you. That's a solid deal.

So instead of doing justice yourself, you just pay these agencies with the guns and whatnot. But the bigger the agency, the better, because anybro who is in your agency is one more person you don't have to worry about murderizing you, since agency has courts and stuff. Plus BONUS it's way cheaper to belong to a huge agency than a small one, because have you seen the startup costs for a paramilitary? Tanks are fucking expensive unless you buy in bulk, but Costco Tanks are only a good value if you need, like, 30. Once there's a largest agency, it's just going to keep getting larger because of PROTECTION PAUL'S LOW LOW PRICES ON RIGHTS PROTECTION. And because it's hard to spread out a police force, in different areas of the world you get these dominant protection agencies.

Oh, hey that's weird - suddenly, we've got this organization that, in exchange for, say, an annual fee, keeps its members safe from harm, protects their rights, decides on rules, and provides courts? Dost mine ears deceiveth me? Do we have a fucking state on our hands? That sure sounds like a legislative, executive, and judicial function. And they're clustered in geographic regions! I'm not going to pretend it's not a weird looking state, but there you go. All it does is protect its own members. We call this the "ultra-minimal state" - it's a state where only one agency, the state, gets to use force, but it doesn't have to protect non-customers.

But what if there's more than one huge protection agency in the region? Well doing battle is fucking expensive, because then you start burning through houses, which is just a huge ordeal, replacing a house. It turns out, it's way the fuck easier for the agencies to just strike a deal where they share a court system than to fucking go to war with each other. So whether you get one agency or a bunch of agencies that just make deals with each other, the point is pretty soon you've got more or less the same rules across the board and a single judicial system, and eeeeeverybody is safer.

And what about non-members? How would Pauls' Protection Agency (PPA) act towards non-members? First, it wouldn't let them do any risky shit like take retaliation into their own hands. Maybe some fucking guy, let's call him Will, one of Paul's customers, steals from some other guy, Jim, who isn't a customer. And Jim is about to go steal shit back, which he has a right to do! But PPA would be like "Woah-ho-ho there Jim! Look, we can't have you stealing shit back from Will, because things might go terribly wrong and you accidentally stab him. Or maybe you both die in a fire. Or something. The point is, amateurs going all crazy and enforcing their own rights could be pretty dangerous; we're professionals. So, here's two-hundred and fifty bucks for the shit Will took, plus another fifty because we restrained you. We'll handle it from here. Thanks, guy!" And might doesn't exactly make right, so Paul might occasionally fuck up (but he's a nice guy so he's doing his best); might does make shut-up-because-I-said-so.

But it would have cost Jim time and money to go enforce his rights against Will. And honestly, it's easiest for PPA to just protect non-members from members, rather than repay non-members - after all, protection is kind of their thing. So instead of just forking over $200 every time Will fucks up, they'll spend $100 so that they don't have to pay $200 later on. Nip that shit in the bud. The point is, PPA isn't doing anything immoral as long as they compensate Jim for taking justice out of his hands. PPA prevents non-members (and other agencies!) from doing risky shit so that members don't get hurt more than they should - leave the protection and enforcement to the professionals, thanks, and we'll just take care of you for when our members fuck up. PPA handles all the justice with respect to members, even when non-members get mixed into the fray.

So now you've got this dominating agency (or collection of agencies that form a single network, whatever) and a bunch of goddamn independents who refuse to just fucking sign up. And why the fuck wouldn't you sign on? It's way more expensive for you to not sign on and handle shit yourself, so stop being a fucking idiot and sign the contract. Besides, the more people who don't sign on, the more dangerous it is out there, because independents don't get shit from PPA in their battles with other independents. If a bunch of people are refusing to sign, you think that's because they don't want to be able to rob and pillage the other independents? "Why didn't you sign on with the agency that prevents you from harming others?" "Oh, no reason. No reason at all." YEAH OKAY.

So sure, maybe there will be a couple holdouts or whatever, the important thing is this: everybody has a reason to sign the contract and get involved. And that is how you justify the coercion of a minimal state - it's not this greater good bullshit, it's that everyone gets on board themselves. But that means that you can't go fucking crazy passing lots of new laws - you have to keep the state limited to these couple jobs, the protection of individual rights and the provision of courts and shit, because that justification just won't work for anything else. The state is only justified in doing like four things.

And that's how to back into a state without even trying. 


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"State-of-Nature Theory, or How to Back into a State without Really Trying" is Part I of Robert Nozick's excellent Anarchy, State, and Utopia, which you can get from Amazon. It was surprisingly popular in its own time for a philosophical work, and it isn't because it's simple - Nozick famously draws on game theory, economics, and a whole range of other disciplines in his work, and here is no exception. However, it is an incredibly well-argued challenge to the prevailing political philosophies of the time, one of those books that changes your approach to philosophy even if you agree with absolutely zero of its conclusions. And boy do lots of people agree with zero of his conclusions. Also, the title contains the Oxford Comma so it has that going for it.

3 comments:

  1. Bro, you've been on fucking fire lately (and not the type you need to pay anybody to put out).

    We should add that not only do lots of bros not agree with Nozick, Nozick very quickly didn't agree with this book himself. He seems to be one of those bros (Bertrand Russell also comes to mind) who seemed to hold a position just long enough to sign off on the proofs for his book on the topic.

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    1. It's like the devils advocate thing. A dude is good at philosophy-ING if he can play that part.

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  2. you freaking rock

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