If by political philosophy we understand the broad discipline that studies the relationship between the state and the individual—surely a plausible, almost innocuous suggestion—then Robert Nozick’s remark to the effect that “the fundamental question of political philosophy, one that precedes questions about how the state should be organized, is whether there should be any state at all ” becomes immediately appealing (Nozick 1968, p. 4). To be precise, however, we should note that this question does not really belong to political philosophy; rather, political philosophy presupposes an (affirmative) answer to this meta-political question. However fundamental Nozick’s question undoubtedly is, there is another even more fundamental question: What is the state? I shall dub this question the ontological question. Obviously, just as political philosophy presupposes an affirmative answer to Nozick’s metapolitical question, Nozick’s meta-political question presupposes that there is some concrete answer to the ontological question. The ontological question cannot be answered with a simple yes or no; it calls for a constructive answer. Libertarianism, I shall argue, is a good starting point in our efforts to provide a constructive answer to the ontological question. To be sure, libertarianism differs from other political doctrines merely as to the details of the state (its size, powers, goals, etc.). Even Nozick’s meta-theoretical program quickly dissolves into a defense of a particular type of state; rather swiftly Nozick’s efforts turn exclusively toward proving to the anarchist that the minimal state is not immoral. Libertarianism is, thus, predominantly a normative theory (whether a merely political or a comprehensive moral theory aside). I propose, however, to focus on an aspect of libertarian thought that allows us to see the movement as presupposing a purely descriptive, ontological stance. Even if quickly abandoned, there is in Nozick’s libertarianism a valuable, fertile ontological moment. I wish to examine Nozick’s ontological overtures within the context of social and political ontology. I wish to sketch some fundamental aspects of the ontology of politics, via the analysis of the institution of the state. To th
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