A little more on the principle of rectification.
Jason Kuznicki responds to my Nozick review, arguing that people who think some large-scale rectification of previous injustices is required before we can do anything practical about making government minimal are wrong. I don’t think his first point hits me as a target, since I’m wondering what the entitlement theory would say about specific large-scale historically unjust acquisitions or appropriations, not trying to advocate patterned distribution. But I’ll quote his other two objections:
Second, I think Nozick may err slightly in that he seems to take the advocates of rectification too much at their word. There are certainly better and worse ways of rectifying injustice within an entitlement system. We mustn’t suspend all judgment once someone yells “Rectification!”
It may very well be, as Nozick suggests, that “no considerations of rectification of injustice could apply to justify” a given redistribution. This doesn’t seem a terribly high bar to surmount. Indeed, the world overflows with unjust redistributions, and we have politics in order to fight about them.
Third, justifying a given rectification requires far more than mere ignorance about whether it’s right or wrong.
I admit that “you can’t apply Nozick’s argument to the modern United States!” was a tad hyperbolic. But my problem with rectification isn’t that I think the principle Nozick spells out can justify all our current programs. Rather, it’s that Nozick doesn’t give us a principle of rectification at all:
Idealizing greatly, let us suppose theoretical investigation will produce a principle of rectification. … The principle of rectification presumably will make its best estimate of subjunctive information about what would have occurred (or a probability distribution over what might have occurred, using the expected value) if the injustice had not taken place. (ASU, 152-3)
Presumably, Nozick the activist had some guess as to what the principle of rectification required, and which parts of the modern state could or could not conceivably be justified as an approximation of the principle. But these guesses aren’t given in the book.
For example, I am pretty convinced that any good principle of rectification would require some form of reparations to, say, descendants of slaves (at least from certain corporations and municipalities), but I don’t have the first clue how such reparations would be determined or structured on a large scale. I really don’t. I’ve no idea how to go about making a “best estimate of subjunctive information about what would have occurred … if the injustice had not taken place.” I don’t know how you’d balance the value of the redistributions we’ve already made (especially if one takes the conservative position that welfare has actually hurt the victims of historic injustice more than it has helped them). But justice is too important to brush aside the principle of rectification because we don’t think it would work out for the people to whom the injustice was done. The theory really needs a principle of rectification.
I do have to grant that “There are certainly better and worse ways of rectifying injustice within an entitlement system.” But you’ve already gone further than ASU in suggesting guidelines for rectification. And you’re right that on a the practical political level, if we accept the entitlement theory we do have to work with our best guesses as to what rectification requires. However, without a solid principle to work with, the range of possible best guesses is pretty huge.