Commentary Magazine

Liberals & Libertarians

Today we know we must not interfere with consenting adults. We have pretty well established the principle of G. B. Shaw's actress friend: do whatever you want, as long as you don't scare the horses. In essence, that was inscribed over the portals of Rabelais's abbey of Thelema (“Will, Desire”): Fay ce que vouldras, do as you please, do whatever you want. There is one difference, however. For Rabelais, the men and women admitted through the portals would have been trained to an aversion from everything base and would want to do only what was noble and elevated. His inscription was, as we say, elitist. It enforced high entrance requirements. Our “consenting adults” is more democratic. It is an open-admissions policy.

Some feminists are less sure about noninterference. They say, for example, that since a pornographic book or movie—the heterosexual kind, at any rate—degrades women, it should not be allowed. If they were Catholic priests or Fundamentalist preachers or Orthodox rabbis, we would laugh at them, but they are feminists, so we do not laugh. Normally, upholders of civil liberties speak out against attempts to strengthen the prosecution and weaken the defense. In New York State no one spoke out while feminists were putting through a law that makes it easier to convict for rape. When the leader of a civil-liberties union wrote a book poking fun at licensing, as of taxi drivers, and at the denial of licenses to applicants with criminal records, the feminist who reviewed the book failed to see the humor of it. Riding in a taxi, she said, she would like to think that her driver had not been convicted of rape, or even arrested on accusations of rape.

It is not liberals who are the most intransigent upholders of liberty and of leaving people alone. Liberals are for achieving such ends as racial integration by such means as a court's order to transport children to distant schools. That is, liberals are for intervention by government, and consequently for government that does not leave people alone. Nor are liberals uniformly antiprohibitionist. Assuming nearly all liberals oppose the prohibition of marijuana, I do not assume nearly all would oppose the prohibition of cigarettes. On a plane you may sit in the smokers' section and not smoke, but you may not sit in the non-smokers' section and smoke. Suppose you are a smoker and Ban-the-Cigarette militants have preempted the smokers' section. Will liberals represent you in your suit to make the prohibitionists pay for their conspiracy against you?

Libertarians might. Their politics is anarchism or near-anarchism, but because their economics is a laissez-faire purer than Adam Smith's, they figure prominently in Ferdinand V. Solara's useful Key Influences in the American Right.

In Boston a radio commentator everyone calls conservative has been leading the opposition to integration by busing. It turns out that he opposes not only compulsory attendance in a distant school but also compulsory attendance in school. He is a libertarian. Until he became ambitious for political office, he used to say he was against prohibiting heroin: we have no paternalistic right to abridge people's liberty to kill themselves, with heroin or anything else. About abortion, a feminist argument is that every woman is the mistress of her own body; that the fetus is part of her body; and that as she is free to have a tumorous part of her body excised from it, so is she free to have the fetal part excised. Feminists do not necessarily accept the libertarian argument against prohibiting heroin, but libertarians necessarily accept the feminist mistress-of-her-own body argument. They must say, therefore, that having no right to forbid a woman to addict herself (her body), we have no right to forbid her to addict her fetus—though no doubt libertarians will suspect that anyone who raises the question of an addict's fetus does so demagogically, an enemy of liberty exploiting the public's sentimentality.

The elevation of equality to a uniquely high rank among our values, before which all others must give way, is egalitarianism—a hypertrophy of the principle of equality. Its most recent and most portentous statement is John Rawls's Theory of Justice. Libertarianism is a hypertrophy of the principle of liberty. Its most recent and most portentous statement is Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia.1

Nozick justifies “the minimal night-watchman state”: “The minimal state is the most extensive state that can be justified. Any state more extensive violates people's rights.” For Murray N. Rothbard even a minimal state is too extensive. He is the libertarian who has written (in Man, Economy, and State, quoted by Nozick):

Blackmail would not be illegal in the free society. For blackmail is the receipt of money in exchange for the service of not publicizing certain information about the other person. No violence or threat of violence to person or property is involved.

Nozick's free society is a shade less absolutely free. Of blackmail, which seems to interest libertarians, he says:

So someone writing a book, whose research comes across information about another person which would help sales if included in the book, may charge another who desires that this information be kept secret (including the person who is the subject of the information) for refraining from including the information in the book. He may charge an amount of money equal to his expected difference in royalties between the book containing this information and the book without it; he may not charge the best price he could get from the purchaser of his silence.

“May charge . . . may not charge”: ethics. Entering into the spirit of the thing, one asks whether charging only the expected difference in royalties acquits Nozick's writer of further obligation. Is not the writer ethically obliged to tell the publisher, so that he in turn can charge the expected difference in profits? When writer and publisher signed their contract—the most blessed word in the libertarian lexicon—did they not agree on fixed ratios between royalties and profits, and on more rather than fewer sales?


Rawls takes a dim view of life's favoring the lucky over the unlucky, the attractive over the unattractive, the clever over the slow, the energetic over the torpid. His ideal is to apply to humanity the handicapper's art, which when perfect compensates with utmost precision for nature's differences. Compensatory equalization of that sort, as Marc F. Plattner notes (Alternative, May 1974), is the theme of Aristophanes' Ecclesiazusae. In nature, young men and women attract each other. In artful comedic Athens dirty old men are compensated for their natural handicap by going to the head of the line for access to girls, while crones have first call on young men, and the most cronish first of all. A fine idea, correcting for nature's unfairness, becomes an ugly reality.

Libertarianism as such is not the theme of anything by Aristophanes, but in the Clouds he does pay his respects to sophists and to Unjust Reason defeating Just Reason. He would have enjoyed Nozick and Rothbard disputing, in the light of freedom and ethics, the fine points of blackmail.

Robert A. Nisbet says (Public Interest, Spring 1974) that Rawls's Theory of Justice is as much the work of a philosophe as of a philosopher. That is also true of Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia—intended, partly, as an answer to Rawls. Altogether, Nozick is Rawls's mirror image.

Individualists, especially libertarian ones, are not fond of meddling. Refusing to meddle while people are destroying themselves (or their fetuses) with heroin, why should they meddle with more direct suicide? And if it is wrong to prevent a neighbor from committing suicide, it may also be wrong to dissuade him. It may even be wrong not to help him commit suicide. One can imagine a range of possible requests: (a) “I have a blister on my toe. Be a good fellow and bring me the pistol in the drawer of my night table.” (b) “I seem to be all thumbs today. Would you be so kind as to insert these cartridges into this revolver for me?” (c) “Just my luck! I've sprained my wrist. I would appreciate your holding this gun to my head and pulling the trigger.” If a libertarian has trouble saying no to (a), will he say no to (c)?

Nozick disposes of suicide with a rhetorical trick: “On the assumption that people have a right to commit suicide, quit their jobs, and so forth. . . .” This is so breezily matter-of-fact that we hesitate to raise our hands, for fear of looking stupid. I used to think there might be some minute difference between committing suicide and quitting a job—and so forth—as well as between helping someone quit his job and helping him commit suicide.

About sadism, Nozick asks:

May the majority of voters in a small village pass an ordinance against things that they find offensive being done on the public streets [his emphasis]? May they legislate against nudity or fornication or sadism (on consenting adults) or hand-holding by racially mixed couples on the streets? . . . If the majority may determine the limits on detestable behavior in public, may they, in addition to requiring that no one appear in public without wearing clothing, also require that no one appear in public without wearing a badge certifying that he has contributed n per cent of his income to the needy during the year, on the grounds that they find it offensive to look at someone not wearing the badge (not having contributed)?

This is the debater speaking, who wants to razzle-dazzle us into believing there is no ethical difference between interracial hand-holding and what sadists do to masochists. (Would the philosopher equate public nudity and fornication, or throw dust into our eyes with missing contribution badges?) Sadism means torturing and hurting. Jokes about torturing and hurting are called sick jokes.

Mirror images: both Rawls and Nozick are philosophy professors at Harvard. Both do analytical philosophy, in the dominant Anglo-American tradition. Both base their systems on an unnatural initial state of nature—no less than Nisbet's Rawls, Nozick “favors game theory and tidbits from free-market economics over ethnology, etc. . . .”

Nozick is writing about people, yet his bibliography, of more than 150 entries, lists almost nothing by political scientists, sociologists, anthropologists. He is writing about political philosophy as well as ethics—to Aristotle, politics was a branch of ethics—yet the bibliography has no Bible, no Plato, no Aristotle, no Machiavelli, no Hobbes, no Spinoza, no Adam Smith, no Jefferson, no Hegel, no Tocqueville, no Mill, no Durkheim, no Freud, no Dewey (and no Leo Strauss). Instead, it has three things by Ayn Rand, three by Rothbard, six by Nozick, six by the 19th-century American anarchists Lysander Spooner and Benjamin Tucker, and any number by modern game- and decision-theory economists.

Nozick declares for methodological individualism, which can be a useful caution against misplacing concreteness in abstractions like “society,” but his individualism goes beyond method. Clearly, he believes he can learn most about human beings from economics (of a certain kind), though economists themselves have long insisted that their economic men, the buyers and sellers who figure in theoretical models, are not real people. We are not forever studying consumer reports and calculating discounts to the fifth decimal point, drawing contracts with each other, seeking redress for invasions of our space, comparison-shopping for the best buy in protective associations. (The protective association is a libertarian alternative to government.) We do not recognize ourselves, as we are or would like to be, in the libertarian portrait of us. Economic man is so far from being natural man that Emile Benveniste titles a chapter in his Vocabulaire des institutions indo-européennes “An Occupation Without a Name: Commerce.” What he means is that there is no word for it in Indo-European, the common ancestor of Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, etc., and that individual languages of the Indo-European family have names for it that are vague or negative. English “business” is “busyness.” Greek askholia is “absence of leisure,” and so is Latin negotium.

Naturam expellas furca,” writes Horace, “tamen usque recurret”—though you drive out nature with a pitchfork, it will always hurry back. The idea of a human nature is repeatedly driven out and repeatedly comes back. Jane Van Lawick-Goodall's In the Shadow of Man is not one of those big, bowwow pronouncements of ethological evidence for aggressiveness or a territorial imperative in humans. It is factual, closely observed, modest. It is practically ethnographical, because Dr. Van Lawick-Goodall was almost a participant-observer with a band of chimpanzees in an African forest. Who can deny that there is a chimpanzee nature? And who, after reading her book, can easily deny that there is a human nature?

Chimpanzees are by nature social animals. According to Aristotle, “man is by nature a political animal”—a being of the polis. Just before, he has said that “the polis is among the natural things.” Just after, he likes Homer's shuddering epithets for the unsocial, solitary Cyclopes: “clanless, lawless, hearthless.” (Cf. Genesis 4:14, Cain's fear of what will befall him, outcast and outlaw.)


The polis was a state. Small in extent and population, it was nevertheless far more than a minimal state. Minimal states are not patrons of the arts. What would our culture be without Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, who wrote to compete for a polis's prizes? Much of the literature, architecture, sculpture, painting, and music that are the patrimony of the human race would not have been created in the absence of states. Thought itself, intellectual tradition, is not independent of states, or statehood. For better or worse, would the Jewish intellectual tradition of the past two thousand years have been the same if the Jews had had a state?

Like Rawls, Nozick prefers to belittle thought's links to culture, society, state. As a philosophy professor he surely has experienced what another colleague of his, in another university, once told me. When there is an international philosophical conference, the Europeans stay by themselves and the Anglo-Americans by themselves, with neither group understanding, and each feeling superior to, the other—the Anglo-Americans convinced that the Europeans are full of hot air, and the Europeans that the Anglo-Americans are trivial. Would Nozick do philosophy as he does if he had been educated in Germany, France, or Italy? Can he in fairness be haughty toward the soil in which his way of doing philosophy is rooted?

His answer is sarcasm:

. . . the fact that we partially are “social products” in that we benefit from current patterns created by the multitudinous actions of a long string of long-forgotten people, . . . institutions, ways of doing things . . . does not create in us a general floating debt which the current society can collect and use as it will.

In effect Nozick asks his benefactors, the society and tradition to which he admits he is indebted, “But what have you done for me lately?” Because he is a specialist in ethics and a Jew who is demonstratively not non-Jewish, he must know why this will not do. “But what have you done for me lately?” is the ingrate's question, and ingratitude is dubiously ethical. It is the retort of non-Jewish Jews when anyone hints that, owing something to their having been born Jews, they should feel some Jewish obligation. They too make light of “a long string of long-forgotten people” and “floating debt.”

Elsewhere Nozick speaks differently:

Each existing person is the product of a process wherein the one sperm cell that succeeds is no more deserving than the millions that fail. Should we wish that process had been “fairer” as judged by Rawls's standards, that all “inequities” in it had been rectified? We should be apprehensive about any principle that would condemn morally the very sort of process that brought us to be, a principle that therefore would undercut the very legitimacy of our existence.

The emphasis is mine, the self-refutation Nozick's.

Like ethology, historical linguistics testifies against libertarian individualism. Take the very word for “self” in Indo-European, *swe-, *seu-, or *se-. Calvert Watkins (in the American Heritage Dictionary) and Benveniste agree that it is also the word for “in-group” (Watkins, “kin group”)! In “self” and “suicide” it has the individual meaning. In “si ster” (German “Schwester”) it has the collective meaning: Indo-European *swesor– is the female, *sor-, who belongs to the group *swe-. The sod– of “sodality” (fellowship, company) is from an expanded form, *swed-. In Greek, expanded *swedh– becomes eth-: ethos, ethics, ethnic, ethology, ethnography. Benveniste concludes that for the speakers of Indo-European more than five thousand years ago—people rather closer than Nozick's calculators to a state of nature—selfhood, individuality, was inseparable from belonging to a group.

Nisbet traces Rawls's famous “original position” to the older philosophes unhistorical, artificial “state of nature”—adding that Rawls has less excuse than they had because he should know more than they could. But Rawls does not want to be bothered with facts. “We want,” he says, “to define the original position so that we can get the desired solution.”

Nozick is not very different. At the beginning he gives as his basic premise that a hypothetical original “non-state situation in which people generally satisfy moral constraints and generally act as they ought . . . is not wildly optimistic; it does not assume that all people act exactly as they should.” The fallacy here is not optimism, or pessimism. The fallacy is that Nozick's “people” are atoms. He conceals from himself that groups are real and that people do not feel the same moral constraints outside their group as inside. He ignores Deuteronomy 23:21—“you may charge interest on your loan to a stranger, but not on your loan to your brother [or countryman]”—which is Benjamin N. Nelson's point of departure for his now classic Idea of Usury: From Tribal Brotherhood to Universal Otherhood. Hobbes's “war of everyone against everyone” may itself be an individualistic fallacy. Primitively, it is not that every individual wages war against every other, it is that every group wages war against every other. Benveniste confirms linguistically that within a city peace was the norm, with fratricide and civil strife the dreaded exception, while between cities war was the norm, with peace the exception. When, in Genesis 16:12, it is said of Ishmael that “his hand shall be against everyone and everyone's hand against him,” the life of the Ishmaelites, the nomadic tribes of the desert, is being described. Their morality is peace within and raiding without. An impressive achievement of Nozick as philosopher is to demonstrate how Rawls's book is in a way one long tautology, with answers predetermined by the choice of questions. Nozick's book is equally tautological, his individualist premises compelling his conclusions.


I have said that Nozick is demonstratively not of those whom Isaac Deutscher, referring to himself and invoking masters like Spinoza and Trotsky, proudly called non-Jewish Jews. Nozick goes out of his way to defend Shylock against Portia. He quotes Buber, Louis Ginzberg's Legends of the Bible, I. B. Singer, literature about the kibbutz. He tells Jewish stories and gives Jewish examples.

This is somewhat unexpected. A priori, libertarianism should be more appealing to non-Jewish than to Jewish (or non-non-Jewish) Jews. So long as traditions and traditional communities exist, a non-Jewish Jew must be an outsider. Radicalism promises, “No more tradition's chains shall bind us.” Trotsky thought to break those chains by Marxist revolution. But libertarianism also seeks to break the chains of tradition and traditional community. For the anti-traditional, now, libertarianism can be the functional equivalent of radicalism—with one great advantage. Trotsky's theory has been weighed in the balance of practice and found wanting. His vision was a mirage, false. The libertarian vision cannot be falsified. There can be no reality to test it.

To Nozick, in sum, as presumably to that Boston radio commentator, a rabbi's son, Judaism's not being libertarian ought to present more difficulties than it apparently does. Of course, neither is Judaism conservative, if conservative is what those organizations listed in Solara's booklet are. Nor is it liberal, even if many who should know better like to infer from the liberalism of Jews that Judaism must be liberal. Judaism is—well, it is Judaism. Though the language of politics in Josephus' time abounded in -cracies and -archies—from aristocracy, democracy, and ochlocracy to anarchy, monarchy, and oligarchy—for Judaism he had to coin a new word: theocracy, a polity ruled by God.

Empirically, the more undilutedly Jewish a group of Jews, the less liberal (or libertarian): rabbis unafraid of being called censors are likely to be Orthodox. Doctrinally, it should be enough that liberalism, and libertarianism above all, has to do with rights, but classical Judaism with duties (in this respect, as in some others, resembling classical Hellenism). More than classical Judaism says that a poor man has a right to my or the community's charity, it says that I and the community have a duty to give him charity.

Consenting adults? Zimri son of Salu and Cozbi daughter of Zur the Midianite were consenting adults, but Phinehas son of Elazar son of Aaron the priest followed them into their chamber and stabbed them through the belly with his spear, thus, by his zeal for the Lord, turning back His wrath and checking the plague that had killed twenty-four thousand Israelites. Both for the Bible (Numbers 25) and for the Rabbis the zealous Phinehas is a model of right thinking and right doing.

Do whatever you want, do as you please? In biblical Hebrew to do as one wants or pleases is “to do what is right in one's own eyes.” That is bad. Only to do what is right in the Lord's eyes is good. “You shall do what is right and good in the Lord's eyes, so that it may go well with you . . .” (Deuteronomy 6:18, after the Ten Commandments and the Shema'; and similarly 12:28). “You shall not do at all as we do here now, everyone whatever is right in his own eyes” (12:8). “In those days, there being no king in Israel, everyone would do what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6 and 21:25, the last verse in the book, introducing the books about the kings).

For liberals the Prophets are great because they teach “social justice” (so called to distinguish it from unsocial justice?). Among them Amos is held to be preeminent. If only because Amos 2:6 ff. is read in the synagogue—as the Prophet lesson accompanying the Torah lesson (Genesis 37-40) about Joseph sold into slavery in Egypt—it is one of the better-known passages in that book:

Thus says the Lord: For three crimes of Israel, for four, I will not reverse it [sc., My punishment]: because they sell the righteous for silver [rabbinically, Joseph is “the righteous,” having spurned the advances of his master's wife], and the needy for a pair of shoes. . . . and a man and his father go to the same girl, profaning My holy name.

May Amos justly interfere when a man and his father go to the same girl? All three are consenting adults. And though the “girl” is a cult prostitute, it is uncertain that she and the two men think they are profaning the Lord's holy name. They may be hallowing Baal's name, or Astarte's, but it is not precluded that—devotees of the syncretistic, pre-prophetic Israelite folk religion—they wish to hallow the Lord's name.

In either case, Amos does not show much religious tolerance. We solve the problem of his illiberalism by forgetting it. The Amos we remember is the denouncer of those who sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes.


Libertarians, indeed, may think Amos illiberal for denouncing sellers of the righteous and needy. A right to buy implies a right to sell, and vice versa. If I have the right to sell myself to you, you must have the right to buy and then to sell me. Nozick says we have those rights: “The . . . question about an individual is whether a free system will allow him to sell himself into slavery. I believe that it would.” What system freer than one that secures the freedom to be a slave?

As to profaning the Lord's holy name, the Hebrew verb can equally be rendered “pollute.” Unlike liberals, libertarians are not intense about pollution. They say it is all right for you to pollute, provided you compensate those whose persons or rights or possessions your polluting has invaded. The Lord's holy name is His possession. If the man and his father and the girl have polluted it, let them and the Lord agree on compensation to Him: so and so many burnt offerings, perhaps. In the history of religion such compensation for such pollution is old and respectable.

The difference between the Bible's understanding of pollution and ours is that ours is material and chemical, the Bible's moral and cultic. (In Latin and almost to the present day in English, “pollute/pollution” was closer to the biblical sense than to ours.) If today we say that the land will vomit us out because we have polluted it, we mean that we have fed it garbage, junk, and exhaust. The Bible tells why the Land of Canaan vomited out its pre-Israelite inhabitants in Leviticus 18, the climactic Torah lesson on Yom Kippur, which is about pollution and abomination. Besides the sacrifice of children to Molech, these are the unchastities. Traditional Jews would no more tolerate them in the name of liberty than most of us would tolerate, in the name of liberty, what we know to be the real pollution.

In Liberal synagogues not Leviticus 18 but 19, or part of it, is read on Yom Kippur. Of 19:16—“. . . do not stand by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD”—Rashi, repeating a midrash, interprets the first half as “do not watch your neighbor dying [while you do nothing] if you can save him.” The second half he interprets as “I am He Who can be relied upon to reward [those who try to save their neighbors] and to punish [those who do not].” So much for non-interference with suicide.

As for our right over our own bodies or our right as masochists to have ourselves tortured by sadists, Judaism knows no such right. J. David Bleich (Tradition, Fall 1974) informs us that contemporary rabbinical jurisconsults even doubt whether Jewish law permits elective plastic surgery.

Judaism recognizes divine proprietorship over all objects of creation, including the human body. Judaism expressly teaches that the individual has no proprietary rights with regard to his own body and hence is forbidden to mutilate or wound his own body (see Rambam Hilkhot Chovel u-Mazik 5:1). A person's body is committed to him for safekeeping and hence self-mutilation or any form of assault upon the body is viewed as a breach of this stewardship. Dispensation for intervention in physiological processes for therapeutic purposes is granted in the biblical directive, “. . . and he shall surely heal” (Exodus 21:19). Thus, a surgical operation to correct a deformed or malfunctioning organ is specifically excluded from the prohibition against “wounding.”

. . . Plastic surgery undertaken solely for cosmetic or aesthetic purposes differs significantly from other corrective procedures. The obvious halakhic problem associated with plastic surgery is whether or not such procedures involve infractions of the law against wounding. . . . A further, more general, question is raised by the risk to life involved in such procedures. Any form of surgery, particularly when performed under general anesthesia, poses at least a minimal, but nevertheless significant, threat to life. Is it permissible . . . to expose oneself to such danger for cosmetic purposes? . . .

Both scriptural and liturgical, the most emphatic statement of Jewish utopianism is Isaiah 11, which prophesies a future when “they shall neither hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain.” Kimhi interprets “My holy mountain” broadly, as referring to the whole Land of Israel. May we not interpret it more broadly still, as referring to the whole earth? “The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof” (Psalms 24:1).


An either/or choice between individual and society is like the choice between free will and determination. The Jewish answer is to refuse the choice. R. Akiba says: All is foreseen (i.e., God is omniscient, He knows what will happen) but we have free will.

Not even Abraham, starting from fifty innocent, dared try to bargain the Lord into agreeing that Sodom would be spared if it had fewer than ten. Did it have as many as nine? If so, they perished with the numerous wicked. That, as they say, is life—unfair. The innocent minority perishes with, suffers the punishment of, the guilty majority. I am “I,” and I am also a descendant of my ancestors and a citizen of my city.

On the other hand, in II Kings 14 (and II Chronicles 25) Amaziah son of Joash, king of Judah, executes his father's assassins but spares their children, “in accordance with what is written in the book of Moses' Torah, that the LORD commands as follows: ‘Fathers shall not be put to death for sons, nor sons for fathers, but only for his own sin shall anyone be put to death’”—an almost verbatim quotation from Deuteronomy 24:16. Jeremiah (31:28) and Ezekiel (18:2) echo Deuteronomy in repudiating the folk's proverb, “Parents eat unripe grapes, and their children's teeth are set on edge.”

Here we see the Jewish unwillingness to decide one way or the other. In reality, the folk's proverb was sound doctrine, in complete agreement with the revelation to Moses of the Lord's attributes (Exodus 34: 7):

He extends kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; yet He does not remit all punishment, but visits the iniquity of fathers upon children and children's children, upon the third and fourth generations.

But it does not end there. That passage figures prominently in our liturgy for a holy day falling on a weekday—only cut short so as to mean the opposite:

He extends kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; and acquitting.

A singular “pious fraud,” because it is not as if the liturgy were altering something obscure. Exodus 34:7 is read from the scroll eight times a year. Once during Passover and once during Sukkot, normally, it is read immediately after the triple chanting of its inversion-by-truncation!

Could it have been such a reserve about the either/or—either the individual or the community—that influenced Nozick to write a last chapter, “A Framework for Utopia,” which turns everything around, almost? Here autonomy inheres no longer in the individual but in the community (or commune), which may be anarchist or authoritarian or anything between, and the individual's liberty is his right to seek out the community that suits him best. Earlier, Nozick formulated his justification of the minimal state individualistically: “Any state more extensive violates people's rights.” Now he formulates it communally: “The framework for [the communitarian] utopia that we have described is equivalent to the minimal state.”

That is better, but not yet good enough.

Especially these days, few in the academy have any high regard for pluralist democracy. Defending it against depreciators to Left and Right, the European political scientist Ernst Fraenkel has cited Pascal. Pascal said that unity without multiplicity is tyranny, and multiplicity without unity is confusion.



1 Basic Books, 367 pp., $12.95.


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