The Invisible Paw: Altruistic Libertarianism in Animal Crossing | Overthinking It
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One might be tempted to label Tom Nook as a socialist. After all, he does own all of the real property in town and distributes it to the citizens in more or less equal shares. However, this theory of socialism falls apart when we consider that Tom Nook lacks the power of the state. He does not have the authority to pass or enforce laws, levy taxes or perform any other functions of a central government. Most significantly, he has a very powerful tool for controlling the other citizens’ behavior – he could threaten to take away their homes if they don’t submit to his whims – but voluntarily refuses to abuse this influence.
If anything, Tom Nook appears to be a libertarian, albeit a drastically different version than what we’re generally familiar with. Central authority in the game is extremely weak – the government has a very limited role, and the town’s mayor, Tortimer, is an aging, ineffectual figurehead who sleeps constantly and rarely makes a public appearance outside of holiday festivals. Without any real laws to enforce, the police take on the role of assisting the population by giving out information about the town.
However, instead of the “everyone fends for themselves” mentality that is generally associated with mainstream libertarianism, we instead have Tom Nook providing social structure and a safety net for everyone. Thanks to his generosity, nobody in the town will ever be homeless, because Nook sets everybody up in a house and continues to let them live there whether they pay him or not. And nobody in Animal Crossing will ever go hungry because… well, mostly because they don’t eat.
Compare this to Bioshock’s Andrew Ryan, a libertarian capitalist in the more familiar Ayn Rand vein. Ryan thinks of governments as “parasites” and considers altruism “the tool with which all that wickedness is built”. This outlook eventually leads him to build his own libertarian utopia, Rapture, at the bottom of the ocean, allowing only the best and brightest of society to join him. Ryan’s brutal policies eventually lead the city’s underclass to rise up in a civil war. In just over a decade, Rapture is in ruins, many of its citizens murdered, and nearly all the remaining survivors are insane, chemically dependent murderers.
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