The status of individual liberty in the United States should be perfectly clear to any reasonable observer. The foul stench of liberty’s decomposing corpse, its underwear on inside-out, its head bashed in beyond recognition, contaminates everything, from the twerky culture to the Orwellian workplace.
Let’s be real: there is no libertarian moment and there never was. Ron Paul’s minor celebrity in 2008 and 2012 was simply the latest in a long series of fringe candidates getting their 15 minutes on a TV melodrama of political roulette that, as always, was fixed by the house.
But don’t pop that Zoloft yet! We can establish a libertarian autonomous zone on this planet within the next couple decades. I’m talking about real liberty, not state-managed, permission-slip freedom-lite and not the kind that lives a panicky, fleeting existence between bong hits on the darknet and Craigslist.
What if I had a strategy for establishing an ordered, stateless libertarian zone on some of the best real estate in the world? Are you interested? What are you willing to do to realize such a vision?
The US is Not Worth Saving
Some people in the liberty communities – libertarians, market anarchists, natural law advocates, conspirary theorists, constitution thumpers and other fellow travelers – have this idea that the United States is an exception. It’s a shining city on a hill. Democracy FTW. We’re number one! Greatest founding fathers EVAR!
But the United States is just another empire. In fact, it’s the most powerful state in all of history. As befits that status, the US has a crack marketing machine. When you boil down the fourth-of-July hot dogs with the thunderous applause at State of the Union addresses, you get Attila the Hun in an Armani suit promising a better kindergarten cage for the children while plotting the next crony-contractor-led crusade for ‘democracy’.
Thus, any rally cries that mention saving the country, restoring the constitution, kicking out dem illegals or securing the homeland are only jingoistic junk mail. Humanity requires no government. Liberty has no flag. Human rights don’t depend on arbitrary map lines.
The only legitimate rallying cry of libertarians is uncompromising respect for the individual right to self-determination without the use of aggression (first use of force) and with a heavy, if strictly voluntary, smattering of empathy. These are universal human values present from Accra to Montevideo and everywhere in between. They don’t depend on your skin color, gender, sexual orientation or language.
So, libertarians who understand our ideology should seek to thrive anywhere on this planet, or in this universe, for that matter. We need not be limited by political boundaries, traditions or other sentimental sophistry. The United States is neither your maiden in distress nor your sacrificial altar.
Peak Liberty has Passed
Libertarians have screwed around for decades with hopeless campaigns in rigged elections, counterproductive vendettas against unaligned meter maids, endless books and pompous analysis, political party squabbling, quixotic efforts to persuade a cozy if overworked public, self-enriching fear-mongering about economic collapse, street rebellions full of suicidal rage against cops, self-righteous if principled purity tests and so many other vainglorious attempts to appease our own egos.
But none of it is advancing liberty.
What’s bigger than Ron Paul in the libertarian universe? Who or what could possibly reach more people with a more consistent message of individual liberty than Dr. No? Ron Paul raised millions of dollars. He appeared in tens of millions of living rooms nationwide saying very smart and relevant things. His fanatical admirers, I among them, donated, launched blimps and otherwise made a heck of a lot of noise on Ron’s behalf. But there is no one, and certainly not his son, who is poised to rise higher than him with a message any more well-spoken or more consistent. There is nothing on the horizon. Zero.
Peak liberty arrived in 2012. We’re on the ass-side of the curve.
Simultaneously, just over the last decade, the American public has endured the following tragedies:
- They sent their children and their tax dollars to die in a grotesque manufactured war that created an organization much stronger than Al Qaeda (ISIS).
- They lost jobs and savings to the financial crisis and watched open-mouthed while Congress bailed out the perpetrators with more of their money, against their express will.
- They consented to regular gropings of their and their childrens’ genitals whenever traveling.
- They discovered that the federal intelligence community gets cc-ed on every little bit of information they transmit across a network.
- They watched while the city of Boston was put under martial law for a day.
If the American public will accept all of this, and much more, with open arms and free pizza, then what kind of magic will you work to make these hundreds of millions suddenly value their individual sovereignty? What do you expect to happen that will top all of that and finally rouse the masses to resistance?
Maybe you’re waiting for economic collapse or the fall of the dollar? So what if it does happen? The government will reorganize and issue a new currency. The merry-go-round will start up all over again with a clean slate.
Perhaps you’re waiting for FEMA camps and the plastic coffins? Please.
If you can’t top Ron Paul and Edward Snowden, combined, then what are you working towards? Do you have a promising long-term goal and a strategy that doesn’t involve 65 million votes, changing ‘hearts and minds’ or selling bootleg baby booties on Etsy? Because I do. And if you don’t, then all your outreach efforts and your bitcoin trading are leading up to no meaningful endgame whatsoever.
Libertarianism has no chance in the United States because the US is a declining country of obese self-pitiers who compete for victim status. Liberty requires taking responsibility for yourself but Americans prefer passivity to taking the initiative. They want everything to be managed for them, from healthcare to education.
Libertarianism is impossible in the United States because the system is rigged. The electoral system, the financial system and the education system are all gerrymandered to reinforce the power of the all-seeing, all-oppressing central government.
We can’t save the United States of America because it doesn’t want to be saved.
Change the Game
New political systems do not come about by getting arrested or winning office in the existing framework. They don’t come about by educating (propagandizing) busy commuters or changing minds one at a time. Smuggling and other black market activity is, at best, a release valve on a loaded gun.
And let’s be clear. Libertarians, at least radical libertarians, want a new political system. We don’t seek to cut an agency here or reduce a tax there, like the hapless radical Republicans. We want a new political paradigm, a stateless one based on individual sovereignty, markets and contracts. You can get an entry-level view of that here.
New political systems arise through the use of force – physical force or truth force (satyagraha). You need force to topple the corrupt old system or to defend the new – and frequently both. Diplomacy without the threat of force to give the words weight is merely begging.
I’m not talking about fat, uneducated oafs asking you to lone-wolf shoot your corner cop. Nor am I talking about weekend-warrior militiamen guzzling Gatorade on immigrant patrol in the Sonoran Desert.
The fact is that Facebook likes, Twitter retweets and dramatic YouTube footage of your arrest are nothing more than entertainment, to be praised or ridiculed but never to be taken further. Garnering attention for a cause that consists of nothing more than a few whiny egomaniacs is ultimately damning. It leads to nothing.
Because force – physical or truth – is the only way to effect meaningful change.
A New Game
Libertarians need a nation of our own – not a state but a nation, by which I mean:
a large body of people, associated with a particular territory, that is sufficiently conscious of its unity to seek or to possess a government peculiarly its own [emphasis added]
Any freedom we find within an existing state, be that a US state or a free-enterprise-friendly government such as Chile, Singapore or Switzerland, is built on quicksand. Governments operate outside the marketplace of voluntary relationships. They use aggression to serve their ends. They steal, lie, cheat and murder. Libertarians will never find security in the confines of a state because modern states are too powerful. When market outcomes don’t conform to their demands, they use overwhelming force to tilt the playing field in their favor, and against the interests of good and honest people.
We need a strategy that seeks not an endless series of leap-frogging accommodations with the least worst states but that aims at nothing less than the subversion of all states through a superior, pan-human polycentric legal framework that can, like a virus, invade their territory and liberate it – not through superiority of physical force but because we offer better solutions for security, dispute resolution and the social safety net.
Here is my plan for changing the game:
- Organize a group of fit, passionate, high-integrity men and women. Develop a code of conduct.
- Train obsessively in survival, farming, construction and defensive tactics, including (guerrilla) warfare.
- Develop a legal framework. No, not a constitution, God help us, but a polycentric legal framework which will govern both the initial team and the growing society that develops after the initial settlement. Turn it into a compelling, easily-replicable open-source product.
- Put together some money, at least hundreds of thousands among us to start. Very little, if any, of the money need be held communally.
- Move in to a suitable location in the third world with a weak or failing state that Western powers consistently couldn’t care less about when tinpot tyrants start murdering and raping the locals. Legally purchase quality land. Legally immigrate.
- Mount an effort to sway large portions of the population to our side with promises of health, wealth and prosperity. Keep the public relations campaign going strong. Help people with free healthcare and free education. Develop and launch products that truly help them.
- Set up the basics of civilization: homes, farms, factories, telecommunications, etc.
- Expand, expand, expand. Employ locals, educate them, bring stability, prosperity and liberty to society through industry, security and the expansion of our legal framework.
Too hard for you? Let’s look at the alternatives.
Liberland: the Imaginary Kingdom
Liberland is marketed as a pseudo-libertarian micronation on East European terra nullius. In reality, it’s 3 square miles of swampy, mosquito-infested forest actively controlled by Croatia. No one, not even the supposed founder (a politician: ’nuff said), actually lives in Liberland. Even if they could settle the boggy land, it’s just another state with a constitution. Liberland is statist retread with a clumsy, fairy-tale name.
Seasteading: Expensive, Risky Vaporware
Seasteading is the idea of creating human settlements on floating platforms in the oceans, ideally in terra nullius areas outside of existing states’ exclusive economic zones. Current efforts of the Seasteading Institute, however, are aimed at locating a seastead inside the coastal waters of a tolerant host government.
Seasteading is risky and expensive. You must effectively build your own land, land that could sink under the waves along with your home, possessions and loved ones. Seasteading is a high-tech dream that is currently beyond us. It’s a prime example of trying too hard.
Free State Project: Overdue, Overwrought
The Free State Project is an effort to get 20,000 libertarians to move to New Hampshire and use the political process to reduce the size of the government to a – yawn – uninspiring minimal nightwatchman state.
Fourteen years after its founding, the project still has not reached its minimum goal of getting 20,000 people to promise to move to NH within 5 years of reaching the pledge target (though they might achieve it next year).
Sure, about 10 per cent of those pledged movers have already relocated to the Shire but a sizable number of them have moved back out. Thousands of the early pledgers voted to make other states home to the FSP. They probably won’t be moving. The FSP counts more NH natives among their ranks than they do actual movers. And even an optimistic scenario projects another 15 years before they finish moving 20,000 into a state that, today, boasts 800,000 registered voters – an electorate that sent a Democrat to the governor’s office just last year.
Libertarians simply don’t want to move to New Hampshire. It’s cold, it snows too much, the land is unsuitable for crop farming, major cities are far away and the New England region is a bastion of bootlicking statists.
The Free Staters, some of whom have been elected to the NH state house (not that hard), have no significant legislation to their names that I can find. Even the medical marijuana law there, which isn’t yet in effect, is overly restrictive. It’s a joke.
The First World is a Losing Battle
For those of us who actually want more liberty now, who aren’t snug speechmakers stockpiling self-admiration, and are willing to rearrange our lives to get it, we have two options today, as we speak.
- We can feed our egos pretending we’re saving the greatest country in history while sustaining the beast that stalks us (via taxes and the Federal Reserve), risking execution by cop and getting absolutely nowhere around the vanishing edges of the all-seeing, all-oppressing US governments, knowing that they hold the unassailable advantage in money, tech and the population’s high couch-potato factor.
- Fool ourselves with 3 square miles of mosquito-munched marshland in Croatia. Suit up and beg the NH state house for more liberty. Or risk life and limb in the middle of the ocean, struggling as if we lived in a tin-can spaceship, hundreds of miles from land.
Sound good? Then you’re in luck. Pour yourself a chilled microbrew, break out the gluten-free kale chips, put your feet up on the antique coffee table and follow these three steps:
- visit Liberland.org and register for their fabled constitutional republic;
- sign the pledge at FreeStateProject.org; and
- look at pretty pictures at Seasteading.org.
But there’s a third option for those who won’t aren’t into fairy-tale paradises, doomed half-measures or seasick sushi. Go big or go home, I say. You have one life, one opportunity to do something. Do you want to establish a beachhead for uncompromising liberty in this world, in this time? How badly?
A straight line is the shortest distance between two points. What is the straightest line between you and a stateless, libertarian autonomous zone on Planet Earth?
Why Play on Maximum Difficulty?
Why should we struggle for more freedom against the strongest state in the world? Why should we play by their rules when we do it, rules created and administered for their convenience and to serve their ends? That’s playing the game on maximum difficulty. It’s not just short-sighted, it’s plain stupid. But that’s what the Free State Project is doing.
Why should we risk our necks out on the oceans where we have to build not just our infrastructure but the very land we will live on? Why should we risk death and complete loss through sinking? Why should we live where there is no freshwater source (other than rain)? This is also playing the game on a very high difficulty setting.
Why should we limit ourselves to a tiny 3 square mile island in the middle of an ethnic powder keg? Even if we make it, where can we expand to from there? Where is our room to grow? Not to mention the prohibitive cost and inconvenience of bringing building and other materials in via boat down the Danube, since Croatia won’t allow people in on foot or car.
Libertarianism is a grand ideology of human liberation. We seek to liberate the weak from the strong, the oppressed from the oppressors, the unarmed from the armed, the good people from the psychopathic abusers. Yet we’re going about this with the mindset of a cowering ant, seeking tiny little spaces on the margins.
Back to Africa
In order to build a thriving free society, one that can realize the promise of prosperity through economies of scale and dynamic, diverse marketplaces, we need land, people, favorable geography and other forms of capital.
We need good land. Not desert, swamp, geopolymer concrete or a disappearing reef in the remote Pacific.
We need land that either doesn’t have an existing government or has a weak, failed or failing state. Ideally, it would also rank well on the Index of Economic Freedom and the Human Freedom Index. A thriving underground, counter-economic economy would help. Maybe there are even people there who would welcome us – people who would like to work towards compatible goals as peers.
The United States and Europe mustn’t care about this land or its people. It can’t have oil or other strategic resources that the first world is actively pursuing. A history of massacres, famines and civil wars in which first world countries don’t or only half-heartedly intervene is a plus.
In other words, Africa.
Nobody Cares about Africa… Yet
Africa has huge potential but it needs organization, leadership, investment and new models for economic development and dispute resolution.
Over 1 billion people currently live in Africa, more than 10 per cent of humanity.
Africa’s land area is equal to that of the United States, India, China and most of Europe combined. That’s a lot of room to expand and it’s not barren ocean but a lush landscape (below the Sahara).
Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Bank [PDF], boasts the largest informal economy, at around 40 per cent of official GDP. (Latin America also has a high rate of informality.)
By the end of this century, 40 per cent of humanity will be African. That’s a large bloc of people who need liberty in order to escape grinding poverty. Imagine Africa as the staunchest bastion of liberty for centuries to come.
A few idle first-world whiners complain about African poverty, lack of economic progress and the constant disregard for so many human lives. Some work to send charity to the Africans, further enslaving them. But libertarians can do something different, something meaningful and effective.
We can get on the ground and work hand-in-hand with Africans to build a better Africa for all of us, an Africa that is a gleaming example for the world and a laboratory for liberty.
Below are some promising, if early, candidates for a libertarian autonomous zone in the third world, in no particular order. The idea is not to select the weakest state in the world – South Sudan, a very dangerous breakaway region of Sudan – but to find the ideal balance of a fragile state, the economic and human freedom needed to operate, favorable geography, population and many other factors, both soft and hard. Some indices I’ve used in my research so far, with the abbreviations I use below, include:
- Fragile States Index (“Fragile”)
- Index of Economic Freedom (“Economic”)
- Human Freedom Index (“Human”)
- World Bank study on shadow economies, otherwise known as the informal sector or underground economy [PDF] (“Informal”)
Explore this research for yourself and compare your results with mine below. Let me know what you find and if you come across any other useful information.
- Somalia (#2 on the Fragile States Index) has sea access but is mostly arid and suffers from a civil war with religious aspects. Far from ideal.
- Zimbabwe (#16 on the Fragile States Index) and Botswana (Economic: #36, Human: #94, Informal: #76, Fragile: #122, stronger than South Africa) are interesting but landlocked. Freedom-wise, Zimbabwe is very repressed but comes in at #3 on the Informal index.
- Guinea and Liberia (#10 and #21, respectively, on the Fragile States Index) host very weak, if highly repressive, states. Guinea is #50 on the Informal index and Liberia is #28. They have the benefit of sea access as well as being part of a large, green and well-populated east-west corridor (see above) that’s more than 2,000 miles wide. That’s a promising space for expansion.
- Nigeria (#14 on the Fragile States Index) is slightly less economically repressed than the previous two states, but is more repressive of human freedom. It’s #8 on the Informal index. It’s also in the corridor but is the #7 most populated country in the world at 182 million. That’s likely too big to start with.
- Ghana places decently on the Index of Economic Freedom (#71) and the Human Freedom Index (#61) and is ranked slightly more fragile (#98) than Mexico while also ranking decently on the Informal index at #43. It’s well-placed in that east-west corridor and has sea access. I know of a small libertarian movement in Ghana.
- Rwanda (Economic: #65, Human: #104, Informal: #45, Fragile: #37) may be culturally open to this kind of project and is well-placed for expansion, but has no sea access.
- A non-African option is Haiti (Economic: #151, Human: #81, Informal: #7, Fragile: #11), where the people are desperate for economic development. Think of it as a Latin Taiwan or South Korea, with 30,000 square miles of expansion possibilities across the island of Hispaniola. I’m not excited about islands, however.
- Colombia (Economic: #28, Human: #118, Informal: #55, Fragile: #61), at the northern tip of South America near the Panama Canal, is experiencing solid economic growth and is plagued by insurgencies of the right and left. But this oligarchic, federal democracy is a very close US military ally. It has access to both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. It’s also the 19th largest producer of oil in the world and a top supplier of oil to the United States. That’s a serious concern.
- More challenging possibilities include Chile (Economic: #7, Human: #18, Informal: #119, Fragile: #150, stronger than Italy), Paraguay (Economic: #83, Human: #71, Informal: #51, Fragile: #103, a little stronger than Mexico), which has excellent land and water resources but is landlocked and Uruguay (Economic: #43, Human: #34, Informal: #9, Fragile: #155, stronger than Spain), which has a small but known libertarian movement. But these are all very strong states and would require considerable accommodation. Also, there is no significant east-west corridor for long-term expansion. Also of note in South America are Bolivia, which is #1 on the Informal index, and Peru, which is #5.
There’s also the notable Zomia region of Southeast Asia, a mountainous area with a population of 100 million that spans China and Indochina, from Afghanistan to Vietnam. The primary drawback here is the unfavorable geography, which includes the Himalayas.
For those who like the idea of establishing an intentional community under a liberty-tolerant state outside the United States on a budget, a more accommodating if strategically pointless option might be to purchase a Spanish village, join a Costa Rican retirement community or buy into a Chilean Galt’s-Gulch-style expat community. This might make sense for people who are creature-comfort-dependent, risk-averse and think aggressive, monopolistic governments are a fine way to organize the political future of the species.
Even more moderate libertarians who still recognize the need to leave the United States might be happy with states that rank in the top ten for both economic and human freedom, such as Switzerland, Ireland and New Zealand.
Collaboration, not Conquest
The idea here is not conquest, not exploitation, not to start a shooting war but to play a smarter game on a more amenable field – one that’s likely to show results in terms of decades, not centuries. We need to do more than argue on Facebook. We need to actually step out into the mud and help people realize their dreams. We will, thus, illustrate for the world the tangible importance of liberty for a decent human life.
Nor is the selection process about picking the least worst state and snuggling up to it. This effort is about making a weak state obsolete by serving its people better. This initial goal is a stepping stone towards an expansion phase.
Only 82 committed fighters were on the Granma when it landed in Cuba in November of 1956.
If the petty tyrants Fidel Castro and Che Guevara can take Cuba from its imperialist oppressors with an initial force of just 82 fighters then a committed organization of a few hundred well-armed, -trained and -funded libertarians can set up a peaceful base in Africa – a base that will not only liberate us but also free a continent, bring prosperity and stability to the world’s poorest and serve as an example to the world for centuries to come of the healing power and necessity of liberty.
Much Work Remains
Much research and analysis remains to be done. If you’re interested in doing it with me, email me.
N.B. I mean no offense to the people behind Liberland (props for the effort), the Free State Project (I’m a member), the Seasteading Institute (I’m a supporter), the Libertarian Party (I’m a former member) and all the others whom I’ve implicitly or explicitly criticized here. I hope you all succeed. My intention is to reality check the movement, analyze and propose new and feasible ideas for the long-term. Even if you don’t like my ideas, you must admit our desperate need for new ideas.
Photo Credit: Stormsignal via Compfight cc