Analysis of Michael Sandel’s Liberalism and Theory of Justice and Robert Nozick’s Anarchy State and Utopia

When an acquisition is made, it would be just so long as such an appropriation by one person is not achieved at someone else’s expense. Nozick states: "It needn’t be that the foundations underlying desert are themselves deserved, all the way down" (Nozick 225). In understanding the proviso that one person’s appropriations of X do not make others worse off, Nozick offers a two-part argument. The first part of the argument assumes that an individual possesses an asset X, irrespective of whether or not he deserves it, and his possession of it does not violate anyone else’s right to possess it. Based upon this, Nozick offers the argument that if another asset Y arises out of X through a process that does not violate anyone else’s rights or entitlements, then the person is also entitled to possession of asset Y. (Nozick, 225). Moreover, since historical entitlements arise out of distributions that are the result of local exchanges among individuals, Nozick contends that individuals are entitled to them and have a right to them, without necessarily having possessed some talent or having out in effort or performed some work to gain this asset, because such an acquisition has not necessarily been acquired illegally. A person is not entitled to an asset only when he is also entitled to the talents that made such an acquisition possible. Hence, the foundations of the desert do not themselves have to be deserved "all the way down" (Nozick 225), i.e, an individual may just have some of the things.

Sandel sums up Nozick’s position as follows: "arbitrariness does not undermine desert, and ….even if it did, a version of natural liberty and not the difference principle would emerge as the preferred result." (Sandel, 82). Sandel however, rebuts this argument by distinguishing between desert and entitlement. He agrees with Nozick that the foundations of the desert may not necessarily be deserved "all the way down" because firstly, "no one can deserve anything unless there is some basis for the desert" (Sandel 83) but it is this basis itself that is difficult to determine.