[Reference] Libertarianism Without Inequality: Book Review by Evan Charney

Perspectives on Politics, September 2004 | Vol. 2/No. 3
Book Reviews | Political Theory
Libertarianism Without Inequality. By Michael Otsuka. New York:
Oxford University Press, 2003. 168p. $39.95.
— Evan Charney, Duke University

Page 565

In Libertarianism Without Equality, Michael Otsuka seeks to combine a libertarian principle of the right of self-ownership with a robust commitment to egalitarianism. He does this in two ways: First, he argues, against Robert Nozick, that all schemes of redistributive taxation are not on a par with forced labor. Something like a “luxury income tax” for redistributive purposes, Otsuka argues, cannot be considered as equivalent to forced labor since it is easy to avoid; that is, persons can forgo the extra income that amounts to a “luxury.” Second, he denies that one’s right of ownership over worldly resources that one uses for income is as full as one’s right of ownership over oneself: Persons can acquire unowned worldly resources only if they leave enough so that everyone else can acquire an equally advantageous share of unowned resources, where “equally” advantageous means that one can derive the same degree of welfare from it. Furthermore, he claims that persons
possess only a “lifetime leasehold” on worldly resources, which lapse into a state of nonownership upon death. To this, a libertarian might object that “leaseholding” is not really ownership.
Otsuka then revisits Hume’s famous complaint against Locke’s concept of “tacit consent”: If it is very difficult or costly (or impossible) to withhold what constitutes tacit consent, then such consent cannot be voluntary. The solution, according to Otsuka, is “a pluralistic confederation of political societies on the small scale of autonomous cities, towns and regions” (p. 105). This would facilitate ease of selection among various political arrangements and help to ensure that residence really did imply consent to the political authorities of a
given regime.
According to Otsuka, this “pluralistic confederation” would be truly pluralistic: It would include illiberal and inegalitarian societies, and in his willingness to accept such illiberal political societies, he styles himself a “left-libertarian voluntarist.” Such societies could be legitimate as long as they were truly voluntary. So, a quasi-feudal political unit (town, region) might arise when each individual entered into a prior agreement “to entrust the collective’s powers of legislation and punishment to the owner of the island and to appoint him sovereign for life” (p. 117). Or like-minded individuals might form a puritanical
city. To ensure that such a political arrangement is truly voluntary for all members, “parents may not indoctrinate their children into their preferred way of life.” Children must “develop the skills, capacity, and knowledge which would enable them to flourish in a range of the political societies on offer” (p. 120).
What range of political societies? Feudal and puritanical societies as well as those dedicated to free love and drug experimentation? Who determines the content of the education?
The “confederation”? And could not member “political societies” claim that they are not politically autonomous at all inasmuch as they cannot educate their children into their preferred way of life but must have their educational policies dictated by an outside agency? And are they really illiberal political societies if they must give their children a liberal education?
Furthermore, will illiberal political societies be allowed (by the “federation”?) to persecute heretics? Brand disrespectful serfs? Or will they merely “play” at being feudal or puritan societies while deprived of any real coercive political power, like a theme park, where one can enjoy all of the fun of a feudal society for

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a day because one is exposed to none of its dangers—precisely because one is not really in a feudal political society. Otsuka, unfortunately, addresses none of these issues, and in the absence of such considerations, his political proposals strike the reader as having about as much seriousness as an amusement park.


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