T Nation

The Tale of the Slave


Some food for thought by Robert Nozick, an excerpt from Anarchy, State, and Utopia, 290-292 (1974), winner of the National Book Foundationâ??s National Book Award in 1975.

Consider the following sequence of cases, which we shall call the Tale of the Slave, and imagine it is about you.
  1. There is a slave completely at the mercy of his brutal masterâ??s whims. He often is cruelly beaten, called out in the middle of the night, and so on.

2.The master is kindlier and beats the slave only for stated infractions of his rules (not fulfilling the work quota, and so on). He gives the slave some free time.

3.The master has a group of slaves, and he decides how things are to be allocated among them on nice grounds, taking into account their needs, merit, and so on.

  1. The master allows his slaves four days on their own and requires them to work only three days a week on his land. The rest of the time is their own.

5.The master allows his slaves to go off and work in the city (or anywhere they wish) for wages. He requires only that they send back to him three-sevenths of their wages. He also retains the power to recall them to the plantation if some emergency threatens his land; and to raise or lower the three-sevenths amount required to be turned over to him. He further retains the right to restrict the slaves from participating in certain dangerous activities that threaten his financial return, for example, mountain climbing, cigarette smoking.

6.The master allows all of his 10,000 slaves, except you, to vote, and the joint decision is made by all of them. There is open discussion, and so forth, among them, and they have the power to determine to what uses to put whatever percentage of your (and their) earnings they decide to take; what activities legitimately may be forbidden to you, and so on.

      Let us pause in this sequence to take stock. If the master contracts this transfer of power so that he cannot withdraw it, you have a change of master. You now have 10,000 masters instead of just one; rather you have one 10,000-headed master. Perhaps the 10,000 even will be kindlier than the benevolent master in case 2. Still, they are your master. However, still more can be done. A kindly single master (as in case 2) might allow his slave(s) to speak up and try to persuade him to make a certain decision. The 10,000-headed master can do this also.

7.Though still not having the vote, you are at liberty (and are given the right) to enter into the discussions of the 10,000, to try to persuade them to adopt various policies and to treat you and themselves in a certain way. They then go off to vote to decide upon policies covering the vast range of their powers.

8.In appreciation of your useful contributions to discussion, the 10,000 allow you to vote if they are deadlocked; they commit themselves to this procedure. After the discussion you mark your vote on a slip of paper, and they go off and vote. In the eventuality that they divide evenly on some issue, 5,000 for and 5,000 against, they look at your ballot and count it in. This has never yet happened; they have never yet had occasion to open your ballot. (A single master also might commit himself to letting his slave decide any issue concerning him about which he, the master, was absolutely indifferent.)

9.They throw your vote in with theirs. If they are exactly tied your vote carries the issue. Otherwise it makes no difference to the electoral outcome.

The question is: which transition from case 1 to case 9 made it no longer the tale of a slave?




Good old Nozick.

The man can write.


That's right


So the point is that democracy is slavery, or did I miss something?

If my understanding is correct: What is he`s alternative to "old school slavery" and the "democratic slavery"?


No political leaders, no slavery.


what about other types of leaders?

is it not slavery in this line of thinking if some person or persons control your life and labor? must it be a political person?


Really and truly democracy and mob rule are the same thing. Groups can vote to do anything they see fit in a democracy. Being popular doesn't make something good or right.

But I really think we are all slaves to a degree.


If we are free to choose our own end desire then we are free; however, lacking the means to attain that end desire does not make us slaves.


A constitional republic.

A state has narrow, pre-defined limits and does not stray beyond them.

That was the plan, unfortunately the democratic element has grown like a cancer.


"Republics decline into democracies and democracies degenerate into despotisms." - Aristotle


Thanks for the story orion, it was an interesting tale.


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Actually it was more like, the masculine republic declines into the effeminate democracy which declines into despotism.

Which, I think, was spot on.


Well, we build armies of Robo-Nazies in the vast underground dungeons that we do not use to hold our underage sex alaves captive and then we are going to take over the world and make you all eat schnitzel and strudel and, and this is the truly diabolical part, make you watch the "Musikantenstadel", but meanwhile, we bide our time and pose as a small alpine country with insanely high taxes.


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Well theoretically we are a democratic federal republic with 9 states and a two chamber parliament.

Practically we are more like a presidential democracy just with a chancellor, because the members of parliament get there through the parties which makes sure that everybody plays ball.

Federalism does not work because while the states are strong enough to prevent pretty much anything that they do not like, they are not nearly as strong and independent as in Switzerland, so voting with your feet is pretty much out of the question.

We have effectively legalized coruption and logrolling and most Austrians consider this to be social progress, poor little idiots that they are. Nothing, and I mean nothing moves without the explicit approval of every major interest group, which are the usual, farmers, unions, the whole lot.

Direct taxes including payroll taxes for social security are around 50%, if you want to spend it you pay 20% VAT, and of course all the taxes the corporation has to pay you buy your goods and services from, which depending on how you look at it adds up to a whopping 60-70 % minimum.

Respect for the constitution is either zero or very high, depends on how you look at it. It takes a supermajority but the two big parties had that supermajority for most of the second republic which is why the law regulating Viennese taxi concessions is part of our constitution, otherwise it would have been unconstituional.

Our social security systems are breaking down, raising taxes significantly is pretty much of the question and everyone who can avoid paying taxes does exactly that. Social stigma for evading taxes? Oh contraire you are considered to be a dolt if you dont.

On the bright side, the behavior nof the US police and prosecutors would be unthinkable in Austria, and if our politicians are corrupt they are usually caught if they take it too far.

On the other hand our brand new shining anti terrorism law was first used against environmental groups, a group of dads that were protesting to see their kids and two art students filming the police so I guess they would if they could, they just cant.


I personally think the analogy is borderline nonsense ,A society that offers services require a need to generate payment for the services offered. I think as long as the slaves have the right to move , they could not be considered slaves. I wonder how many of these so called slaves use the services ?


So you are not a slave if you can choose your plantation?


And yes, they use them, more so than they would if they had to pay for it themselves, because when people get to keep their money it makes sense to prioritize, when you have already taken it, it makes sense to take as much as possible back, whether you would have bought it yourself or not.


You do not need a plantation, you could choose to be homeless or move to Somalia or Afghanistan that way you would have to pay taxes, You could probably move out to the middle of no where America and not pay any taxes