Nozick And The Communities Smorgasbord


Many years ago I had this idea for government that I thought was too zany for anyone else to ever entertain.  But lo and behold!–  Nozick has hit upon the same basic notion…  what I call, Communities Smorgasbord.

My main idea with Communities Smorgasbord is that there should exist many different types of mini-societies, each with their own idiosyncratic set of laws and customs, so that people can “shop” for the community most in-line with their own ideas about life.

Like me, Nozick does not believe that there is one kind of society that is best for everyone.  He does not assume that all people share the same value system.  His problem with most Utopians is that they tend to offer one, un-evolving scheme that they claim will be right for everyone.  Says Nozick, “they describe a static and rigid society.”  Nozick believes in the wisdom of the evolutionary approach, remarking (in one of my favorite Nozick quotations that,  “evolution is a process for creating living beings appropriately chosen by a modest deity, who does not know precisely what the being he wishes to create is like.”

Nozick imagines a nation inside of which are “different communities, each with a slightly different mix” providing a range of life-styles from which a person may choose.

“Evolutionists point out the advantages of genetic heterogeneity,” says Nozick, going back to his subject of social evolution, […] “Similar advantages adhere to a system of diverse communities organized along different lines and perhaps encouraging different types of character and different patterns of abilities and skills.”

Nozick’s worldview almost demands he eventually come to this conclusion, the conclusion that a multiplicity of cultures is necessary, for he feels strongly that people should be able to live, as much as practical, the lives they want to live.  And he’s open-minded enough to realize that no single culture can offer a big enough tent to allow each person to live in his own idiosyncratic manner.

I feel what is needed (and I think that Nozick is basically saying the same thing) is an umbrella society which would allow numerous mini-societies to exist under its protective and nurturing reach.  I contend that this umbrella society would only need in place such laws and powers which would protect the mini-societies within, and guarantee and facilitate the rights of all citizens to move freely between the mini-societies (barring some crime or other complexities I won’t get into here).  These mini-societies would have a covenant and each person residing there or doing business there must agree to it.

Nozick holds at least a similar (if not identical belief) to my own here, for he contends that national governments are not justified in what we might call “active” government– active government is the domain only of communities.  This is because, in theory at least, people can fairly easily opt out of a community whose rules they disagree with, by moving to another community (or what I’ve been calling interchangeably, a “mini-society”).  Nevertheless, Nozick promptly admits that it is easier to JOIN a community than to LEAVE one.  This means that if your chosen community begins changing its character (perhaps because of influx of new people), then the situation can be troublesome and heart-wrenching, for “after a person has spent much of his life in a community, the choice to pick up and leave is a difficult one.”

Another reason that communities are legally allowed to be more particular than nations, Nozick states, is that in a mini-society, it only takes a few people breaking the norms or rules to have a severe impact on that community, so for this reason, a community is more justified than a nation in having stricter, narrower policies.  He also makes the point, a little weaker, that in a small community, you’re more likely to come face to face with those people who are living outside of the established community norms, making their behavior more detectable.

Lastly, Nozick says that it would be a good idea to educate children on how people live differently elsewhere, so they can make their own choice on where and how to live when the time comes.


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