"The Tale of the Slave"
from Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia,
Consider the following sequence of cases, which we shall call
the Tale of the Slave, and imagine it is about you.
The question is: which transition from case 1 to case 9 made it
no longer the tale of a slave?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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 of cases 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 monster
can do this also.
- 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
- 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.)
- 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.