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Customer Review

HALL OF FAMEon December 31, 2002
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 seem radical and unpalatable for readers of other political persuasions, but any reader who is open to new ideas should find the reading highly interesting. The political philosophy of libertarianism finds its best apology here, but the contents of the book, and the method of presentation will and has found application to other political philosophies, and to legal philosophy.
In the first chapter, the author asks the reader to consider what he calls the "state-of-nature theory". This (Lockean) notion, although archaic in the author's view, allows one to answer whether a state would have to be invented if it did not exist, this being a classical question in liberal political philosophy. The chapter is a detailed justification for pursuing the state-of-nature theory. He holds to the premise that one can only understand the political realm by explaining it in terms of the nonpolitical. He thus begins with the Lockean state of nature concept and uses it to build a justification for the state in the rest of the book.
Most of the discussion in part 1 of the book revolves around the "dominant protective association" in a given geographical area. The author then builds on this in an attempt to justify from a moral perspective "the minimal state". Along the way, one reads about the "ultraminimal state", which has a monopoly over the use of force except that necessary for immediate self-defense, but will not provide protection to those who do not purchase it. The author discusses the tension that arises between the ultraminimal state and those who decide not to participate in it. The game-theoretic, optimization-theoretic approach that the author takes, although not advanced and rigorous from a mathematical standpoint, is very straightforward to follow for those not familiar with the more analytical and formal aspects of many modern treatments of political science.
In part 2 the author attempts to deal with alternatives to the minimal state, such as those proposed by the political philosopher John Rawls, and incorporating the doctrine of "distributive justice". The entitlement-welfare state dialog has not abated in modern political debate, and those who desire an in-depth analysis of these debates will find it in this book. And again, game-theoretic analysis comes into play, although not from a rigorous mathematical standpoint. One of the more interesting discussions in this part concerns the right of individuals to leave a state that they find too compulsory. If a compulsory distribution scheme is the most important, why would a state permit this emigration? Would such an overidding principle of compulsory distribution also permit forced immigration? These are the kinds of questions that the author addresses in the book, and some are left solely for consideration by the reader.
Reader who desire a list of platitudes and endless arguments supporting libertarianism will not find them in this book. Readers though who are not concerned with their political and cognitive equilibrium disturbed will enjoy immensely this book. If it can assist in more careful individual consideration of accepted political doctrine and moral cliches, it has done its job.
...and indeed it has.
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