The Tale of the Slave

At what point are you no longer a slave?

Admittedly, I have not read Robert Nozick. But the following is an adaptation of a portion of his 1974 book titled, Anarchy, State and Utopia. I have here no further commentary to offer, but simply wish to relay a series of scenarios which, if nothing else, are a teacher’s delightful avenue to thoughtful provocation for those who overcome any aversion to the thistle-strewn road of challenging questions.

Nozick begins with, “Consider the following sequence of cases, which we shall call the tale of the slave, and imagine that it is about you.” He proceeds, and I summarize:

  1. There is a slave completely at the mercy of his brutal master’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. 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 cordial grounds, taking into account their needs, merit and so on.
  4. 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 slave to go work in the city or wherever they want for wages. He only requires them to send back 3/7ths of their wages. He also retains the power to recall them to the plantation if there is some emergency on his land, or he can raise the amount required of them. He also retains the right to restrict the slaves from participating in certain dangerous activities that threaten his financial return (ie, mountain climbing, smoking, et cetera).
  6. The master allows all of his 10,000 slaves to vote, except you, 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.
  7. Though still not having the vote, you are at liberty (and are given the right) to enter into the discussion of the 10,000 to try and 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 (5,000 for and 5,000 against). This is has never happened, yet.
  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.

Nozick concludes with the deeply provocative question:

“Which transition from case one to case nine made it no longer the tale of a slave?”

What are your thoughts? Comment below, or head over to the LCKeagy Facebook page.

Added comment 12/13/17: See Andrew Brewer’s comment below for the important spiritual application of the question. 

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2 Responses to The Tale of the Slave

  1. Andrew Brewer says:

    I hate to quote a villain, but Lokey said it best: “Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power. For identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.” Interestingly enough, the answer from the only one brave enough to resist him says, “Not to men like you.”
    We all bend our knee to something or someone – our peace, or quality of life, comes directly from the quality of what we bend that knee to.
    So, I would say the question isn’t when the slavery ceased, but to which master did the slave transition his allegiance?

    • L.C.Keagy says:

      And of course, Paul writes that we are slaves to our selfish desires (ie, ourselves and, as an extension, the devil) or to the Lord. While this is strictly a commentary on political power and servitude, the spiritual question you raise is the far more important one. Thanks you!

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