Deservingness

Jeremy Waldron

  • Against Equality of Opportunity by Matt Cavanagh
    Oxford, 223 pp, £25.00, February 2002, ISBN 0 19 924343 3

In 1974 Robert Nozick shattered the political complacency of the philosophical establishment when he published Anarchy, State and Utopia, a book arguing that justice had nothing to do with equality. Justice is about individual property rights, Nozick argued. You get what you make or find or work on (if no one else has made or found or worked on it first), and you get what you bargain for or what others choose for their own good reasons to give you or leave you in their wills. Years before Margaret Thatcher made it a political mantra, Nozick taught his followers to say ‘there is no such thing as society,’ and no social obligation to see that needs are taken care of or that inequality does not get out of hand. These points had been made before, but they had never been argued in recent years in a way that was so philosophically compelling – never in a way that put the liberal establishment so much on the defensive.

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