Volume 5, Number 2 & 3, Summer, 1987

The Dispossessed Controversy

By Victoria Varga

The Dispossessed is the most controversial novel nominated, year after year, for the Hall of Fame. It is the only novel I know of that so enraged an LFS member that she quit the organization rather than associate with people who dared to consider it libertarian. Professor Martino expresses fairly well the problems many people have with The Dispossessed. Nevertheless, most of these objections seem to stem from a misunderstanding of the novel and Le Guin's objectives in writing it.

It is true, for instance, that "propertarian" A-Io does not have a free market, but instead is a fascist society that rigidly controls its citizens and "their" property. It is also true that the people of Anarres are not as free as they like to believe. But when Mr. Martino asks "Is this freedom?" in regard to Anarresti communal life, I must answer "yes, of course." Self-chosen restrictions do not make a slave, especially if one can renounce them later. Anarres has its misfits: people who work outside the system, or refuse to work at all. Shevek starts a competing Syndic to publish what was before unpublishable. Bedkop hoards clothing in his room and no one arrests him.

From a free market libertarian's point of view, there are chains around the Anarresti, but the chains are only in their minds. They have chosen to live without property—the great majority of them think that it is the best way to live. If we had a free market society tomorrow, many would choose communalism. They might not have made the best choice from our standpoint, but they would be free, nonetheless.

But it was not Le Guin's purpose to contrast free and unfree worlds (nor "propertarians" and communalists, for that matter). While very carefully demonstrating that both societies have problems, and with varying amounts of difficulty one can be free or unfree in either, she does she what most wanted to do all along: show us one man, Shevek, in the process of becoming free from the restrictions and prejudices of both worlds.

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