Jonathan Wolff on Nozick’s Libertarian Utopia
Wolff’s critique of Nozick’s libertarian utopia escapes the typical Marxist centralist ideas. He desires “to argue that the critics have exaggerated their case against Nozick” – but he also says that in the end Nozick cannot answer all its critics, and thus we must adopt their position. However, this seems a pretty unfair option, considering several things. First of all, any theory will find an immense amount of opposition if it has any intellectual relevance. Affirming that any theory has managed or will in the future manage to answer satisfactorily all objections is quite an immodest pretension. Specially, and secondly, because there are different kinds or arguments. G.A. Cohen’s perspective is certainly different from Murray N. Rothbard’s. This would also demand some clarification from Wolff (and indirectly, he does so): to which one of the critiques does he want to give the privilege of being the winner (not for having proposed a better alternative, an alternative that would be more resistant to factual or theoretical critiques, but only because Nozick did not answer all the objections).
Finally, and more importantly, the reason for which Wolff says Nozick fails (in the end, its utopia would lose diversity by slowly falling into a mere free market system) is some kind of a pyrrhic argument that doesn’t see the basic point of Nozick (the Individual as the central element), evaluating him from a side-characteristic of its system (diversity) and that in the end denies the ability of people to make their own choices. If the result of individual choices (of individual free choices, so, free from fraud and violence) is a radical free market system (or “pre-welfare-state capitalism” as Jonathan Wolff puts it) then a justification must be provided to limit individual choices. Saying that the victory of a given social system is the proof of its wrongness can hardly be a valid argument against it. If anything, it would be a good reason to endorse such a system.
So the first way of criticising such system is just criticising the very idea of freedom and rationality: people have limited rationality, are incapable of doing the good choices and thus should not be free to decide on how to live. This is the bottom line of any critique of capitalism in a broad sense (independently of the specific kind of state – minimal state, welfare capitalism, etc. – is actually defended to keep such economical system). Nevertheless, it is a challenge to find any contemporary political philosopher who would, even if believing in it, be so honest to make such a statement. The alternative is breaking the circle by picking on the libertarian proviso: are individuals in a free market system actually free from fraud and violence?
This entails a whole different discussion, but that is not the path followed by Wolff. What he does is following Peter Singer’s finding that communities who desired to have strong redistributive policies would, without limitations on the right to exit and the right to enter (nozickian important principles, specifically the first one) crumble down in the result of two opposing forces. The richer would flee, impoverishing the community by denying it its resources, the poorer would flood it, impoverishing it even more by consuming the remaining wealth.
The previously noted alternative (a discourse on fraud and violence) is the usual Marxist argument: capitalist system is grounded on exploitation. Even if intellectually appealing, and given that practical variants of Marxist thought have already had the opportunity of being implemented (and failed miserably in what concerns fraud and violence whenever and wherever they existed) the proper way of deconstructing the foreseeable result of nozickian utopia (“nineteenth century capitalism”, according to Wolff) is saying why nineteenth century capitalism is so bad. Popper’s falsifiability would be the way out, if the critiques of Nozick were not generally so adverse to it: nineteenth century capitalism is bad because, as all alternatives to more regulated forms of capitalism, it just did not work and was thus substituted.
The problem with such conclusion is that it has a mutual-destruction result: it destroys the post-utopia nozickian world, but it also annihilates most of its critiques. The diversity scope of possible political systems is incredibly narrower. The question moves from ‘Is capitalism good or bad’ and from ‘Is regulation acceptable’ to ‘How much regulation do we need in a capitalist system?’
 Cohen, Gerald Allan. 1995. Self-Ownership, Freedom and Equality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
 Rothbard, Murray N. 1977. Robert Nozick and the Immaculate Conception of the State. Journal of Libertarian Studies, 1:45-57.
 Singer, Peter. 1982. The Right to be Rich or to be Poor, in J. Paul (ed.), Reading Nozick. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.