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Anarchy, State, and Utopia

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  4,986 ratings  ·  225 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
Nolan Gray
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)
Oct 09, 2012 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Philosophy Majors with Course Work in Symbolic Logic
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
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.
Peach Pettes
Mar 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Grahm Wiley-Camacho
Dec 16, 2020 rated it liked it
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
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.
Daniel Hageman
Very thought provoking book. While the conclusions are mostly that which I cannot get on board with, as they rely quite heavily on a deontological foundation, many of the points made regarding rights, distributive justice, and the morality of compensation were all quite unique. Granted, I'm not particularly well-versed in these areas of political philosophy. His attempted critiques of utilitarianism didn't go much beyond the classic 'Utility Monster' and 'Experience Machine' thoughts experiments ...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
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.
Laurens van der Tang
Apr 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you really think Rawls has said the last word on political philosophy, then it might be time to read this book. Robert Nozick is at his best as a critic, and the best part of this book is the critical part.
In the first of the three parts, Nozick shows that the existence of the (minimal) state can be justified by the principle of compensation, just as well (or better) as by Rawls's principle of (re)distribution. The second part shows that no state more extensive than the minimal state is just
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
Timothy Olubusoye
Sep 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Whether you disagree or agree with Nozick's conclusion, there is one thing you certainly can not/should not disagree with––the sheer brilliance of Nozick's derivation of the minimal state. In my opinion, it is analytical political philosophy at its best. Altogether fitted into a solid, holistic alternative conception of the state and society, those unconvinced (at least only at the "head" level, if you take out emotions) after wrestling with Nozick's vision must provide a forceful argument again ...more
Lachie Green
Jun 26, 2020 rated it did not like it
The postive is it's semi-well written. Yet, the ideas that it asserts are so massively incoherent, it's impossible to garner any sort of enjoyment. Nozick writes from a place of unrecognised privilege which, when any form of critical reasoning is applied, is glaring obvious. It's incredible that a person could actually believe what's written in this. ...more
Jan 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The greatest book I've ever read in my life. It'd be an utter joke for me to review rather than recapitulate, itself only slightly less of an utter joke given it's been fed through my meat grinder.

1. I don’t want anyone to tell me what to do. Total freedom. Then someone comes and impinges on my freedom
2. Eye for an eye. I am allowed to retaliate. Recover damages, and deter future crime. But this takes time and effort. Also, where does the retaliation stop? Devolves into feuds.
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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.” 12 likes
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