The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas
If you have not read Ursula Le Guin’s short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” then take a moment to do so.
The story describes a city that is perfect except for one thing. One child must suffer so that others can be happy. Furthermore, the people who live in Omelas are all shown the suffering child when they come of age, so no adult lives in Omelas without knowing how the system really works.
This is, of course, an apt analogy for statism. Every state exists through taxation, which victimizes at least one person. All states in history have inflicted additional suffering on both those who live in their territory and those outside of it. So Omelas might be considered an ideal state — one with minimal suffering and maximum happiness.
In the story, those who come of age in Omelas do one of two things. Most rationalize the abuse of the child and continue to live their comfortable lives. However, a few decide instead to leave Omelas. In the same way, those who support government are the majority in modern society. They want to live in Omelas and are willing to sacrifice others to do so. A few, however, realize that this is unethical and make the hard choice to reject statism regardless of the changes it might bring.
In his excellent book, The Problem of Political Authority, Michael Huemer takes a methodical and relentless approach to analyzing whether government is justified in doing things that ordinary people are not. People should not steal, but what about taxes? People should not brutalize potheads, but what about those who become federal prisoners for recreational drug use?
Concluding that government has no such authority, Huemer recommends a system where such authority is unnecessary. He explores the alternative of anarcho-capitalism and shows that even though anarcho-capitalism is not perfect, it is superior in every way to statism. Huemer makes the point that it is important not to compare some ideal anarchy with obviously flawed states, such as the USSR, but to compare the best realistic government with a realistic system of anarchy. (p185)
For those already on friendly terms with anarcho-capitalism, this book is still a worthwhile read if only for its lucid deconstruction of social contract theory. It knocks down each variation of the social contract, which is sure to be useful when talking to the kind of people who heard something about a social contract and assumed the debate was over. Continue reading