The basic idea here is that one doesn't really own oneself if others have a legitimate claimover what one produces by one's talents. And if only I have a legitimate claim over the products ofmy talents, then I have absolute property rights over them. Hence, Nozick argues for absoluteproperty rights on the basis of the fact that people are ends in themselves. And distributiveschemes such as Rawls', which allows people the products of their talents only to the extent thatthey benefit the less talented treats people as mere means to the enhancement of the lesstalented.
III. ABSOLUTE PROPERTY RIGHTS AND SELF-OWNERSHIP
Put simply, Nozick argues that if we own ourselves absolutely, then we own what weproduce absolutely. But redistributive taxation takes some of what we produce without our consentand gives it to others. So redistributive taxation is inconsistent with self-ownership, and so isunjust. But does absolute self-ownership really imply absolute ownership over the products ofone's talents?
No. Free market exchanges involve much more than simply ourselves and our talents andabilities. We exchange houses, cars, TVs and so on, all of which are not entirely the products ofour talents and abilities. For they are made in part of natural resources as well, and naturalresources are not the products of our talents and abilities. Every commodity, except labor iself, isthe outcome at least two items, human powers and natural resources. For instance, a house ismade by human talents and abilities; but it is made out of wood, bricks and land as well. So evensupposing that we have absolute control over our own talents and abilities, it would not imply thatredistributive taxation is inconsistent with self-ownership, since we do not have absolute controlover resources as well. So if libertarianism is justified in terms of self-ownership, it requires inaddition the help of some view about how we come to have ownership over the resources on whichwe exercise our talents and abilities.
Of course, if we freely exchange for a resource over which someone has absolute rights,perhaps we can have absolute rights over it. But recall that on Nozick's view, I am entitled towhatever has been transferred to me by someone who had legitimate title over it. The legitimacy ofmy entitlement is thus dependent on the legitimacy of the previous owner's entitlement. If she wasnot entitled to it, then the transfer to me, no matter how free, does not entitle me to it. Forinstance, I may buy a car from someone for a price we both agree on. But I will still not be entitledto it if it was stolen. Hence, our entitlements are all dependent on the legitimacy of the entitlementof previous owners, and theirs on those previous to them, and so on. This general concern raisesthe following dilemma from G.A. Cohen:
1. The acquisition of most natural resources was by force.2. Either force made the acquisition illegitimate or not.3. If it did, then governments may now rightfully confiscate and redistribute it.4. If it did not, then governments may now rightfully confiscate it and redistribute it.5. Hence, either way, if force was the source of the initial acquisition, then governmentsmay rightfully redistribute current holdings.
Nozick takes the first horn of the dilemma: Governments may confiscate and redistribute allholdings that were acquired by force, that is, unless we can restore holdings to their rightfulowners (e.g., Native Americans).
But what about the very first person to acquire a given resource, as opposed to someonedown the line who forced another to give it up. What would make the initial acquisition of theholding legitimate? If the initial acquisition is legitimate, then all subsequent free exchanges are
IBERTARIANISMhttp://web.missouri.edu/~johnsonrn/nozick.html3 of 617/08/2009 10:47 PM