Nozick: Democracy as Collective Liberty

The issue of collective liberty versus particular person liberty might be illustrated with a parable from Robert Nozick, a Harvard thinker whose 1974 guide Anarchy, State and Utopia has had a lot affect on libertarian thought.

You’re a slave on the mercy of a brutal grasp. In some unspecified time in the future, the grasp turns into nicer towards you, stops beating you for no motive, and even offer you some free time. He additionally has 10,000 different slaves and properly takes their wants, advantage, and different such components into consideration when assigning their duties. He reduces their workweek to 3 days. He later permits them to go and work on the open market offered they provide him three-sevenths of their wages. Nevertheless, he retains the ability to name them again to the plantation in case of emergency and to limit their rights to have interaction in sure private actions (mountaineering or cigarette smoking, for instance) that might cut back their productive capacities. The subsequent step is that he permits his 10,000 different slaves to debate amongst themselves and vote on all the choices he beforehand made, together with what quantity of all slaves’ earnings, together with yours, will go within the frequent and the way the cash will probably be used. The ten,000 then benevolently resolve that you could vote, however solely in case their votes are tied 5,000 to five,000 (which by no means occurs). Lastly, the ten,000 resolve to allow you to throw your poll with theirs earlier than they rely them (which can after all produces the identical end result because the earlier process). Thus, all the ten,001 democratically make all the choices they need relating to the lives of everyone together with you. Nozick’s query: The place in that sequence did you cease being a slave? (See pp. 290-292 of Anarchy, State and Utopia for the extra detailed story.)

For a libertarian or a classical liberal, the reply is “nowhere.” Your grasp has develop into kinder and extra understanding; and, from being one individual, grew to become a bunch of 10,000 individuals. You and your 10,000 colleagues have collective liberty, in comparison with once you all had one particular person grasp, however none of you has particular person liberty. In case your collective grasp turns into nasty towards you, it’s possible you’ll attempt to persuade him to be nicer identical to you may do together with your particular person grasp earlier than, however you haven’t any extra management in your life.

There are just a few objections to this conclusion, however none is legitimate if the bulk is all-powerful (“sovereign”). So long as that’s the case, you’re nonetheless a slave, albeit an equal slave. Numerical democracy is incompatible with the thought of particular person liberty. (Some months in the past, I had a “dialog” with ChatGPT, during which the poor factor tried to “argue” each for particular person rights and for the duty to undergo the bulk!)

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