I’ve been reading the Aubrey-Maturin books by Patrick O’Brian and was struck by an episode in Post Captain . The hero, Jack Aubrey has been given command of a ship but is being pursued by his creditors and faces indefinite imprisonment for debt if they catch him. Reaching Portsmouth and his crew, he turns on the bailiffs who have been pursuing him and routs them. Several are knocked down and, in a marvellous twist, Aubrey presses them into service on his ship.
It struck me on reading O’Brian that this kind of thing would happen routinely in a libertarian Nozickian utopia. On the one hand, bankruptcy and limited liability, the first great pieces of government interference with freedom of contract would be abolished, and imprisonment for debt presumably reintroduced. On the other hand, since Nozick envisages a minimal state with no real taxing powers but a continuing responsibility for defence, reliance on conscription would be almost inevitable. From Nozick’s viewpoint, any form of taxation constitutes slavery, and fairness is not a proper concern of policy, so there can be no particular objection to the press gang as opposed to, say, voluntary recruitment financed by involuntary income taxes.
Also, at the weekend, I went to watch the final day of the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships. Apart from a brief stint in Sydney, I’ve never lived close enough to a surf beach to watch this archetypally Australian sport. Very exciting, though you need a big screen to see what’s happening in the middle stages of the race, particularly in the swim legs.
Update 26/3Libertarians come in many different flavours, and quite a few have objected to the characterization above. To my mind, the combination of “libertarian’ and “utopia” leads irresistibly to Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia. For clarity, therefore, I’ve referred specifically to Nozick rather than to libertarians in general.