Front Page Titles (by Subject) Rawls vs. Nozick on Justice - Literature of Liberty, January/March 1979, vol. 2, No. 1
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Rawls vs. Nozick on Justice - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, January/March 1979, vol. 2, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Rawls vs. Nozick on Justice
“Natural Rights and Natural Assets.” Philosophy of the Social Sciences 8 (1978): 153–171.
Harvard philosophers Robert Nozick and John Rawls share a great deal in their approaches to political philosophizing. Both are individualists who employ “a procedural model of justification: each specifies an initial status quo (state of nature in Nozick, original position in Rawls) and a procedure for altering that status quo while ensuring the justice of the result (via justice in holdings for Nozick and constraints on the choices of original contractors in Rawls).” Finally, both are similarly wedded to “a ‘deep-theoretical’ commitment” in regard to natural rights.
Nozick's theory in Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) would be closer to Rawls's in A Theory of Justice (1971) if their shared features equally influenced the two political theories. Biesenthal argues that “if Nozick applies his procedural account of distributive justice consistently and comprehensively, he cannot deflect the critique of his radical individualism that is erected by the liberal individualism of Rawls's contractarianism.” The case runs as follows:
Nozick accounts for justice by his doctrine of “justice in holdings” subject to the qualification of the Lockean proviso—i.e., “A process normally giving rise to a permanent bequeathable property right in a previously unowned thing will not do so if the position of others no longer at liberty to use the thing is thereby worsened.” History, Nozick admits, is replete with unjust acquisition of holdings and transfers of holdings. This alone, Nozick seems to admit, would apply the Lockean proviso to cases that are more than extreme (or logical) possibilities. Original holdings achieved by violating rights would morally invalidate subsequent voluntary exchanges. This implication of Nozick's theory suggests nonlibertarian consequences unwelcome to Nozick.
Nozick's position involves other elements that further mitigate his radical individualism in the direction of Rawls's “liberal individualism.” Nozick accepts the view that “it seems morally objectionable that some. . . should suffer a miserable existence because of inherent weaknesses or handicaps that they neither are responsible for, nor, given the chance, would have chosen.” Nozick wishes to deflect the Rawlsian overtones of this admission by reminding us that desert does not exhaust justice. However, Nozick's inadequate support for his view that one is entitled to one's natural assets (by appealing to the intuition that none would, for example, compel someone to give one good eye to a totally blind person) implies the superiority of the Rawlsian theory. Rawls's doctrine does not invite the drastic redistributivist consequences Nozick suggests to be counterintuitive.
Thus, it is argued, the Rawlsian approach is superior since Rawls's “justice as fairness” doctrine lacks the undesirable element of moral arbitrariness that Nozick's elevation of liberty to its eminent political position seems to involve.