Front Page Titles (by Subject) Consent, Coercion, and Property - Literature of Liberty, July/September 1978, vol. 1, No. 3
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Consent, Coercion, and Property - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, July/September 1978, vol. 1, No. 3 
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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Consent, Coercion, and Property
“Nozick on Rights, Liberty, and Property.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 6 (Fall 1976): 3–25.
Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) expounds a questionable understanding of liberty, rights, autonomy, and coercion. Nozick updates the nineteenth-century classical liberal defense of the minimal state, one whose scope is restricted to protecting individual persons, property, and contracts. In this framework of individual rights, only those obligations are valid which derive from voluntary consent. Hence, Nozick rejects egalitarian redistribution laws regulating wages and inheritance that would limit both voluntary consent and control over objects that affect persons.
But a different understanding of liberty, rights, and coercion flows from a humanitarian version of egalitarianism that seeks to improve the lot of those worse off. In this view, we need to “balance” the exercise of various rights and liberties with concern for how that exercise may exert an unacceptable degree of control over other persons' lives and autonomy. For example, low wages, even if voluntarily consented to by workers, may be unjust and reflect an “unacceptable degree of power over others.”
Nozick's belief that individual liberty demands voluntary consent to any political obligation may be fallacious for the same reasons that invalidate subjective preferences as the basis of ethical judgments. We abandon solid, objective ethical standards if we treat all preferences as equally respectable regardless of their origins, content, or consequences. We do not adequately protect everyone's individual liberty simply by making consent the basis of obligation. What will count as valid liberty, coercion, or property depends on which of two interpretations we give to liberty. One interpretation, the individual consent view of liberty, leads to asserting absolute rights of individuals to control property without reckoning social consequences or the poverty of others. A more socially conscious interpretation of liberty might weigh and balance property rights with the basic needs of others to a “normal life.” Even the “Lockean Proviso” restricts the limits of property acquisition by considering the needs of other humans besides the owners.
Nozick sees liberty threatened by the restriction of the scope of voluntary individual consent (as in property exchanges). For Nozick, consent entails the right of nonaggression to preserve people's right to control their lives. But he cannot interpret this right of nonaggression in isolation from others' rights. Others may have a “natural right of noninterference” in the sense that their requirements for an autonomous normal life (i.e., the goods and money needed for decent living) must be respected by property owners. Autonomy, to be even-handed, must be universally guaranteed even if this requires coercively restricting the rights of property. Justice and liberty call for “the balancing of individual benefits and burdens.”