The Minimal State and its Justification

by Eugim Migue
ADDU Graduate Student

Robert Nozick acknowledges the superficiality of Kant’s dictum, at least in political philosophy. For him Kant’s strict dictum, “to treat a person not simply as a means,” is quite problematic: it simply is not possible; if we religiously practice it, a gross limitation, if not the total end, to all economic and social transactions is achieved. What Nozick thinks appropriate for political philosophy as its subject, and for any state as its ultimate purpose, is to specify the ways in which using a person is permissible. But here Nozick was quick to point out that there are certain demands which are unquestionably impermissible for a state to ask of its citizens, e.g., getting some citizens to aid others, asking the rich to share his wealth, to be a “sacrificial lamb” to achieve a greater purpose, and so on. The state’s, if it is to be justified, main functions are protecting its citizens against force, theft, fraud, the enforcing of contracts, and the like – and thus only minimal in its function, and nothing more.


Why should a state, whose function is to simply “protect” citizens and enforce laws, thus minimal, be desired? Should it be blind to the pressing inequalities that exist in its society? Is such a state, at last, useless since it does not promote the over-all good? What is its ultimate justification? Suppose that a state coerces some of its citizens to be used in such a way, as to achieve a purpose supposed to benefit the “greater population”, (if we deduct the used from the total population, then the remaining is obviously greater than the used): is this justified? The answer is, for Nozick, no. For him, there simply is no “greater population”, no social entity, from the perspective of the individual, or of different individuals.

The individual is composed of preferences, interests, and aspirations; whereas the justification of the state, for the individual, is nothing but its ability to eliminate elements that obstructs the achievements and exercise of his goals and preferences. The state is for all, for the social entity; the individual is a member of this society, but the state, for the individual, primarily, is for him. If he gets coerced by the state to be a “sacrifice” i.e. was not able to take his preferred path in life, then, being a part of this social entity, he should have received the benefits of such sacrifice; but, alas, he can not enjoy it since he was the “sacrifice” – and so how absurd, thus rendering it unjustifiable, is such a state meant, or is claiming (“do this for everyone”, “you are called to do this everyone”), to be for all wherein, in fact, it is only for some. If the state is to assume a kind of basic function and nature which are minimal in its coercive apparatus and neutral among its citizens, then it is to avoid such measures and absurdity. For Rawls, only such a kind of state is justifiable.

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