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Anarchy, State, and Utopia

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  5,343 ratings  ·  269 reviews
In this brilliant and widely acclaimed book, Robert Nozick challenges the most commonly held political and social positions of our age—liberal, socialist, and conservative.
It won the 1975 U.S. National Book Award in category Philosophy and Religion, has been translated into 11 languages, and was named one of the "100 most influential books since the war" (1945–1995) by the
Paperback, 367 pages
Published 1974 by Basic Books
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Robert Nozick is a promising young philosophical illusionist whose act at the exclusive Harvard club wows the crowd every night. He can pull a synthetic a priori proposition out of a hat and then juggle six syllogisms while making it all look easy. His patter is excellent and ladies swoon over his boyish good looks. The "Sawing the Rawls in Half" number has already become legendary. The audience knows in advance what's going to happen, but you still hear them gasp when he triumphantly concludes ...more
Mar 09, 2019 rated it did not like it
Absolutely atrocious. Logical flaws, conceptual circles, as well as just completely unaware of how ridiculous it sounds. For example, taxation is equal to slavery because you're being forced into something, but being forced to work in a sweatshop or starve is not a violation of freedom, in fact it's voluntary. ...more
Robbie Leslie
Sep 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book had a huge impact on me when I read it at the age of 22 as a post-grad student of political philosophy. It is really only know, at the age of 44, that I realise quite how much Bob Nozick's master-work has shaped my thinking on the state, politics and society over the past 22 years.
I came to the book with preconceptions - Nozick was neo-liberal and Hayekian. I was neither. I was a committed socialist with anarchist leanings (a huge dichotomy there which I didn't see at the time!) and de
Chris Meyers
Jul 29, 2010 rated it it was ok
ASU is a classic work of political philosophy and is widely considered to be the definitive text defending libertarian political theory, which claims that the only justifiable form of political society is one with minimal government and laissez-faire economic system. The proper role of the state is only to protect the basic (negative) rights of life, liberty, and property. Any other goods or services should be provided by private actions (business or donations), and any redistribution of wealth ...more
M. Nolan
Oct 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Most of the negative reviews of this book boil down to "I don't like his conclusions," which is a sure sign of a mediocre thinker. Even if one doesn't like Nozick's assumptions, his argument is logically rigorous, interesting, and warrants your attention (especially if you've read TOJ.) Further, readers should give section three more love. Most people read the anarchy/state sections and stop, but Nozick's theory of utopia might just be the coolest part of this book. ...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
This is a work of political philosophy arguing for minimal government, the libertarian counterpart and answer to the liberal John Rawls' A Theory of Justice. This is as far from a popular treatment of the subject (such as say Ayn Rand or the like) as you can get. In other words, yes, this is the work of a professional academic, a Harvard professor of philosophy who wrote the kind of rigorous book used in graduate studies--it even won the National Book Award. It's respectable. But dear God, it ma ...more
Jun 06, 2022 rated it really liked it
The book starts with Locke's state of nature and the anarchist's claim that any state is illegitimate, abusive, and immoral. Then assumes a working and perfect economy along with rational, self-interested, free, and perfectly informed economic agents. The main claim is that given only such assumptions along with an Invisible-Hand explanation, the politics and structures of a minimal state will emerge from economics. The additional claim is that such an explanation (i.e., purely from economics an ...more
Patrick Peterson
The first 40-50 pages were almost unreadable. A few clear statements surrounded by almost impossible to understand or follow statements that just did not seem well connected or to logically prove anything.

I was actually very disappointed, since I had heard so many positive things about the book for over 35 years. I even had some positive memories of when I read some of it about 30 years ago.

Our South Bay Libertarian Book Club discussed the first part last Sunday and almost everyone had similar c
Rui Baptista
Mar 07, 2013 rated it did not like it
Nozick was a philosopher-for-rent. His theories were built on demand to provide justification for an increasingly unequal society where the richest few control all decisions and accumulate more and more wealth, and the poor wither. The reader is expected to believe that this is how it should be.
If Nozick was smart, he was not honest. If he was honest, he certainly was not smart.
Nov 25, 2020 rated it did not like it
who convinced nozick he was a philosopher? seriously, what the fuck is this 😭

there’s just so much stupidity here and needless to say i skimmed through a big chunk of it. i threw up in my mouth at quite a few paragraphs and in others i just laughed because what else could i do??

this stinks... that’s all i have to say
Peach Pettes
Mar 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Five stars. Nozick's style is great. He just loves to fool around with various ideas. Most of his conclusions are more like "it seems like logic is suggestive of X" statements. Yet he is also a very formal and dense writer (I don't see these as negatives, especially in this case). He also puts in so many caveats that even his offensive conclusions are not so offensive. ...more
Jun 10, 2016 rated it liked it
Anarchy, State, and Utopia is supposed to be the single greatest libertarian treatise yet written. That's how I have seen it advertised several times - funnily, never by libertarians. They were introduced to the movement by Ayn Rand, Ron Paul, Murray Rothbard, or Stefan Molyneux, but none that I talked to was introduced to it by Nozick. His reception in the libertarian movement was at best lukewarm. Nor did he start it. He wasn't active in it for long, he didn't have as big a popular or politica ...more
Apr 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
I wish more libertarians would actually read this book and acknowledge that this is not a road map for policy making or even directly transferable to a non-hypothetical world. Nozick makes a powerful case against re-distribution, but even he points out that his theory only works where distribution has not been unjustly accomplished in the first place. I don't fault him for failing to propose a solution to this conundrum, because he doesn't purport to do so and correctly states that it is for eac ...more
Mar 30, 2022 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
This book is divided into three parts. Part I argues that from a state of nature, a minimal state would arise via permissible actions (a minimal state being one that only enforces rights such as property and nonviolence). Part II argues that nothing beyond a minimal state could be morally justified. e.g. redistribution could not be morally justified because it would violate the rights of those taxed to find the redistribution. Part III presents a vision of a utopia where many different communiti ...more
Christopher Hudson Jr.
This book can feel like a wild ride. Nozick provides an entertaining array of arguments and thought experiments in critique of anarchism, distributive justice, and other political proposals. However, although I myself have a lot of sympathy towards Nozick’s political philosophy, I have doubts the arguments and structure of this book will likely convince many others. Nevertheless, there are undeniably important insights in ASU that I think remain under-appreciated by both leftists and libertarian ...more
Jul 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Nozick's work is pornography for the critical thinker, a real meaty treat concerning political philosophy. Largely viewed as a response to John Rawls' A Theory of Justice, in fact Nozick responds to or extends any number of theories, though Rawls and his Theory of Justice do form a prominent part. Nozick lays out an argument that a minimal state (more than an ultraminimal state) is both moral and the limit of what could be considered an overarching moral state. That said, he spends part three of ...more
Athan Tolis
Feb 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
This is NOT light reading. Then again, it's a philosophy book, and nobody obliged me to read it. I kept reminding myself of this every time I had to re-read a paragraph for the third time before giving up on understanding it.

So there you have it, I fully admit that whole sections of this book went over my head. But I'm glad I read it. Well, I'm not glad I read Chapter 1, which is entitled "Why State-of-Nature Theory?" I would have understood exactly as much of it if it had been written in Sanskr
Manik Sukoco
Jan 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book is one of the most unusual in the history of political philosophy, and perhaps one of most brilliant. The author's ideas are thought-provoking and highly original, and he asks the reader to consider arguments, rather than engaging in a "diatribe to convince" (my words here). The author creates a reading atmosphere of intellectual honesty, and this helps to soften the possible uneasiness that some readers might feel in encountering these kinds of arguments for the first time. Some may s ...more
Jan 20, 2016 rated it did not like it
I can't believe this absurd book is the bible of the libertarian right. Honestly, it's intellectually embarrassing—a collection of ridiculous thought experiments built atop absurd assumptions. Nonsense on stilts, as Bentham used to say. One "assume a can-opener" theoretical discussion after another. Assume there's no history! Assume that differing-minded people can just geographically separate from one another! Assume that people possess individual rights for which there can be no exceptions! As ...more
Kramer Thompson
Jun 09, 2021 rated it liked it
Pretty interesting but strange book. Nozick discusses a very wide range of topics, and while it's not always clear why he's talking about certain things, or the philosophical legitimacy of certain claims, the book is quite consistently engaging.

I think if you buy his view of rights as absolutely inviolable, it will be difficult to show why his proposal is false. If you don't buy that view of rights, it is quite easy to show why his proposal is false (our rights may be infringed for the benefit o
pʕałxʷ-Grahm Wiley-Camacho
so divorced from reality that it’s hard to really know what to think about it; since we live under a genocidal white supremacist state it’s hard to take minimal state chatter very seriously when there’s no compelling argument for how we can restore indigenous nations or repair the damage of slavery—I guess now that white folks are done pillaging it’s time for sacrosanct rights 🤷🏻‍♂️
Edit: the ideas from the utopian section are fictionally explored in Too Like the Lightning which is a lovely book
Nov 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Though Nozick doesn't explicitly draw it out, this book works as a careful but very hidden comparison of the three major ideologies of the 20th century: utopianism (communism), statism (fascism), and anarchy (classical liberalism). The fact that Nozick's main argument seeks to reject anarchy, accept only limited statism, and outline a pathway towards a form of utopianism demonstrates his suppressed left-wing commitments. Others may disagree with this analysis, but we should remember that this bo ...more
João Francisco Ferreira
for god's sake, have a little empathy ...more
Mar 07, 2010 rated it it was ok
Robert Nozick presents an extreme logical book that is unquestionably the personification of analytical thought. Yet he writes in the preface that he does not necessary believe he is completely correct, he doubts himself. Nozick critiques philosophers like Marx and Foucault who view their work as flawless. This mood makes you want to read his book.
But in the preface he also tells the reader that even though he will base his claims on the viewpoint that all individuals have natural rights, he
May 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is an extremely heavy piece of libertarian political philosophy. Nozick proves through moral logic (including plenty of propositions and equations) that the minimal libertarian state is the single desirable and natural end-state, that anything beyond that is immoral, and that the only utopian option suitable for diverse mankind, is only possible based on this state. His work includes many of the arguments I've considered over the years (the possibiliy of private owners trapping someone by s ...more
Jul 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy
Nozick's book is more readable than Rawl's A Theory of Justice but it is filled with incredibly bad arguments.

1. Nozick returns to the state of nature and argues that a minimal state is inevitable. After that things get bad.

2. His PA system argument isn't even really an argument. He basically says, "yeah I like the benefits of living in society, but I'm a dick so I don't want to pay for it."

3. The famous "Wilt Chamberlin" argument falls apart once you expand the concept even a little further.
Jul 16, 2018 rated it liked it
The author carefully proved moral possibility and necessity of the minimal state. Even more rigorous he showed that all other types of government cannot exist without violation of basic rights.
His analysis of redistributive systems is excellent. But there are several problems with this work.
First - mentioned by many critiques - the framework of the minimal state entirely depends on the set of the basic rights. And if we introduce the right for healthcare, even in its most libertarian form the ri
Aug 04, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The minimal state treats us as inviolate individuals, who may not be used in certain ways by others as means or tools or instruments or resources; it treats us as persons having individual rights with the dignity this constitutes. Treating us with respect by respecting our rights, it allows us, individually or with whom we choose, to choose our life and to realize our ends and our conception of ourselves, insofar as we can, aided by the voluntary cooperation of other individuals possessing the s ...more
Nov 18, 2019 rated it did not like it
Robert Nozick's ideal society is literally a police state where the police do the bidding of those with the most property.
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Robert Nozick was an American philosopher and professor at Harvard University. He was educated at Columbia (A.B. 1959, summa cum laude), where he studied with Sidney Morgenbesser, at Princeton (Ph.D. 1963), and Oxford as a Fulbright Scholar. He was a prominent American political philosopher in the 1970s and 1980s. He did additional but less influential work in such subjects as decision theory and ...more

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“Consider the following sequence of cases, which we shall call the Tale of the Slave, and imagine it is about you.

1. There is a slave completely at the mercy of his brutal master’s whims. He is often cruelly beaten, called out in the middle of the night, and so on.

2. The master is kindlier and beats the slave only for stated infractions of his rules (not fulling the work quota, and so on). He gives the slave some free time.

3. The master has a group of slave, and he decides how things are to be allocated among them on nice grounds, taking into account their needs, merit, and so on.

4. The master allows the slave four days on their own and requires them to work only three days a week on his land. The rest of the time is their own.

5. The master allows his slaves to go off and work in the city (or anywhere they wish) for wages. He also retains the power to recall them to the plantation if some emergency threatens his land; and to raise or lower the three-sevenths amount required to be turned over to him. He further retains the right to restrict the slaves from participating in certain dangerous activities that threaten his financial return, for example, mountain climbing, cigarette smoking.

6. The master allows all of his 10,000 slaves, except you, to vote, and the joint decision is made by all of them. There is open discussion, and so forth, among them, and they have the power to determine to what use to put whatever percentage of your (and their) earnings they decide to take; what activities legitimately may be forbidden to you, and so on.

7. Though still not having the vote, you are at liberty (and are given the right) to enter into discussion of the 10,000, to try to persuade them to adopt various policies and to treat you and themselves in a certain way. They then go off to vote to decide upon policies covering the vast range of their powers.

8. In appreciation of your useful contributions to discussion, the 10,000 allow you to vote if they are deadlocked; they commit themselve3s to this procedure. After the discussion you mark your vote on a slip of paper, and they go off and vote. In the eventuality that they divide evenly on some issue, 5,000 for and 5,000 against, they look at your ballot and count it in. This has never yet happened; they have never yet had occasion to open your ballot. (A single master may also might commit himself to letting his slave decide any issue concerning him about which he, the master, was absolutely indifferent.)

9. They throw your vote in with theirs. If they are exactly tied your vote carries the issue. Otherwise it makes no difference to the electoral outcome.

The question is: which transition from case 1 to case 9 made it no longer the tale of the slave?”
“There is room for words on subjects other than last words.” 13 likes
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