Robert Nozick essentially is arguing that there cannot be an ideal theory of distributive justice that is based on specific patterns of wealth distribution, and, at the same time, give people liberty over their private property. In order to have distributive justice, according to Nozick, there must be major limitations on people’s liberty to dispose of their income. If there are no limitations, they will consistently upset those patterns. Cohen, in contrast, challenges Nozick by arguing that he yet to prove his case against socialism. Cohen denies that socialism is impractical or that it would involve an unacceptable interference with liberty. Nozick says that any distribution arising from a just, and fully voluntary transaction, situation by just steps is itself just.
In addition, Nozick claims that the actions that bring about a situation that force someone to do something are illegitimate, but as long as the people who took those actions had the right to do so, then their actions were legit and, therefore, not being forced. Cohen argues against this by saying that having to choose between selling labor and starving is no choice at all. He goes on to say that the person’s freedom is indeed limited in a way that rich people in not.
Personally, I would have to agree with Cohen on the basis that there are interferences with our freedom that affect our ability to make fair choices in which the interference has hindered. Cohen argues that taxing him pretty unequivocally reduces Chamberlain’s freedom. In addition, preventing the fans from entering a contract whose proceeds will be free of tax reduces their freedom. The prohibition creates an option which is otherwise unavailable to them, to wit, the option of paying twenty-five cents to see Wilt play without endowing a member of their society with an abundance of wealth. Cohen also stresses the tendency to overlook the Chamberlain example. It is easy to think that Chamberlain goes on to do normal everyday things after these transactions, but we must remember the considerable power that he can now exercise over others.
In general, holdings are not only sources of enjoyment but, in certain situations, sources of power. Transfers that look unexceptionable come to seem otherwise when we bring into relief the aspect neglected in ‘libertarian’ apologetic. In addition, Cohen argues that it is arbitrary to restrict the base-line to the case of common ownership when seeking to establish whether the situation of others has been worsened by someone’s appropriating some object. There are other forms of ownership besides common ownership with which those excluded from the use if an object by its private appropriation by another may, with equal justification, compare their post-appropriation situation in order to determine whether the appropriation has left them worse off. Of these alternative forms of ownership, situations in which persons who are denied free use of an object as a result of its private appropriation by someone else were to have appropriated that object themselves instead. Libertarians defend market freedoms and oppose the use of redistributive taxation to implement equality in society.
Although not all who support the free market identifies as libertarian, as they do not share the view that the free market is inherently just. Nozick’s theory is essentially concerned with establishing protection or guarantee for each person’s entitlements. His entitlement theory contends that the argument that Chamberlain acquired his holdings by legitimate mean, therefore justified, generalizes to any theory based on patterns or historical circumstances. This is due to the fact that the theory could be upset by ordinary transactions like the one involving Chamberlain. Nozick concludes by saying that any society that wishes to implement such a theory would be immensely intruding on the liberty of its citizens in order to enforce the distribution it considers just. Cohen does acknowledge that Nozick is certainly right to an extent. This being that even if we do not accept everything Nozick says about the Chamberlain story, there must be a role for entitlement in determining acceptable holdings. Unless a just society forbids gifts, it must allow transfers which do not answer to a patterning principle. This is compatible with placing restraints on the possibility of gifts, and Cohen explains why an egalitarian society might be justified in doing so.
- Cohen, G. (1995). Self-ownership, world-ownership, and equality. In Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality(Studies in Marxism and Social Theory, pp. 67-91). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511521270.005
- Cohen, G. (1995). Robert Nozick and Wilt Chamberlain: How patterns preserve liberty. In Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality (Studies in Marxism and Social Theory, pp. 19-37). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511521270.003