It is often said by critics of libertarians that even one of our intellectual heroes had the sense to recant his youthful libertarianism. Yet this is a vast exaggeration, as we are reminded in Julian Sanchez’s interview of Nozick in 2001 (and I love Nozick’s particular, shall we say, “manly” claim about how he would defend his professorial rights. Would his colleague Harvey Mansfield have done the same?). The entire piece is worth reading, especially for philosophers.. Here are a couple of short bits:
JS: In The Examined Life, you reported that you had come to see the libertarian position that you’d advanced in Anarchy, State and Utopia as “seriously inadequate.” But there are several places in Invariances where you seem to suggest that you consider the view advanced there, broadly speaking, at least, a libertarian one. Would you now, again, self-apply the L-word?
RN: Yes. But I never stopped self-applying. What I was really saying in The Examined Life was that I was no longer as hardcore a libertarian as I had been before. But the rumors of my deviation (or apostasy!) from libertarianism were much exaggerated. I think this book makes clear the extent to which I still am within the general framework of libertarianism, especially the ethics chapter and its section on the “Core Principle of Ethics.” One thing that I think reinforced the view that I had rejected libertarianism was a story about an apartment of [Love Story author] Erich Segal’s that I had been renting. Do you know about that?
I did hear about that. The story that had gone around was that you had taken action against a landlord to secure a certain fixed rent?
That’s right. In the rent he was charging me, Erich Segal was violating a Cambridge rent control statute. I knew at the time that when I let my intense irritation with representatives of Erich Segal lead me to invoke against him rent control laws that I opposed and disapproved of, that I would later come to regret it, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do.
[SNIP by GC]
JS: The students were not overly hostile either?
RN: Ah, that’s different. The Harvard graduate students of the late 60s and early 70s were the center of SDS activity on campus. I had been here for two years as an assistant professor, and left and went to Rockefeller University for two years, and came back in 1969 when I was 30 years old as a full professor. In the previous semester, students had taken over the university’s main administration building; their occupation was ended by police action. Feelings ran high. I announced a course, and it was printed in the catalog, titled “Capitalism,” in the philosophy department. The course description was “a moral examination of capitalism.”
JS: I see. I imagine the students expected something very different from what they got.
RN: That’s right. Somehow a rumor had spread, or maybe they saw what books were there in the textbook section of the bookstore, where in addition to something by Marx and some socialist book were Hayek and Mises and Friedman. So one graduate student came up to me at the beginning of the term and said, “We don’t know if you’re going to be able to give this course.” This was a graduate student in philosophy. And I said, “What do you mean?” He said: “Well, you’re going to be saying things…” and he mumbled something, “there may be interruptions or demonstrations in class.” And I said — I was then, you have to remember, 30 years old — I said, “If you disrupt my course, I’m going to kick the shit out of you.” [emphasis added] He said, “You’re taking this very personally!”
I said, “It’s my course. If you want to pass out leaflets outside the classroom door, and tell people that they shouldn’t come in and take the course, that’s fine. I won’t allow you to do things inside the classroom.” He said, “Yes, well, we may pass out leaflets.”
Time went by and nothing happened during the first week, the second week. So I saw him in the hallway and asked, “Where are the leaflets?” He said, “Well, you know, we’re very busy, we have a lot of things to do these days.” I said, “I called my mother living in Florida and told her that I was going to be leafleted, now come on!” But nothing ever happened.