Demoktesis: Property, rights, and democracy in Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia

Felipe Schwember Augier


Demoktesis is one of the many hypothetical histories in Anarchy, State and Utopy. Here, Nozick not only aims to show that more than a minimum state can only emerge at the cost of violating some citizen’s rights, but he also intends to put forward a criticism of contemporary democracy. The core of this criticism is the claim that democracy entails a progressive loss of self-ownership. In Nozick’s view, this makes democracy a dystopic regime, akin to slavery. In this article I will attempt to pin down the meaning and the reach of this last criticism. I will claim, first, that it should be understood as aimed only against certain conceptions of democracy; and second, that this criticism is overstated, since these very forms of democracy promote many of the liberties defended by Nozick. I will conclude that Nozick’s criticism against these forms of democracy can be explained to a great extent by his reluctance to admit certain idealizations made by the defenders of democracy in demoktesis. This reluctance has consequences on the more general issue of the methodological pertinence of hypothetical histories and, with it, on the problem of the justification of the principles by which those histories are inspired.

Keywords: Nozick, utopia, dystopia, democracy, natural rights.

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