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A Free Nation: Persuading Statists
The idea of forming a new libertarian nation is an attractive one for two reasons: first, as an alternative to persuasion; second, as a tool of persuasion.
Let's start by considering a new nation as an alternative to persuasion. As libertarians, we have been trying to persuade our neighbors and fellow-citizens to choose freedom for the past 350 years. (I date the beginning of the libertarian movement from the English Levellers in the 1640s.) But our neighbors, it seems, do not want the freedom we offer them. We champion personal responsibility — only to have the right wing call us moral nihilists. We attack corporate privilege — only to have the left wing call us apologists for big business. We reject the initiation of force — and both sides call us militant extremists.
With frustration and sadness, many libertarians find they are ready to say: "Enough already. We give up. You win. Brothers and sisters, we have fought for your freedom for many long years, and received in return only insults, incomprehension, and indifference. Very well. Let it be as you wish. If you do not want freedom, if you insist on spiraling ever more quickly downward into the morass of statism, we will, finally, leave you alone. You may proceed happily with your own enslavement, without further pestering from us. But do not drag us down with you. Go your own way, but let us go ours as well. Just leave us one miserable strip of land, in swamp or desert, jungle or tundra, where we can live in the freedom that we, at least, still value. With your own lives, do what you want. Barter your birthright for a leash, if you will. Bow to the jackboot and the gilded crown. But let our people go."
The appeal of a "libertarian homeland," then, is that it would offer a haven for those who have despaired of persuading their fellow-citizens to accept the libertarian ideal. For many libertarians, the odds of convincing the government of some third-world country to lease a portion of its territory to a consortium of libertarian nation-builders, while admittedly slim, seem a good deal likelier than the odds of convincing 51% of the electorate in their nations to vote libertarian (or engage in massive civil disobedience, or whatever might be needed to bring about the new libertarian regime). To those libertarians who have given up on persuasion, the free nation movement offers a new hope.
But what about libertarians who are not ready to give up on persuasion? Have they any reason to participate in the free nation movement? After all, few libertarians would be content with achieving freedom for themselves alone, knowing that the rest of the human race was dooming itself to penury and servitude. Is it too soon to give up the hope of winning through persuasion, of achieving liberty, security, and prosperity, not only for libertarians but for our fellow-citizens as well?
As libertarians, we have all felt, from time to time, the frustration expressed in the "enough already" speech I recited above. Yet we all persist in the task of persuasion. For example, the Free Nation Foundation's own writers and speakers, despite their commitment to the new country idea, regularly engage in more traditional libertarian activism as well, be it through education, electoral politics, or both. We are not, most of us, ready to surrender the dream of freedom for everyone.
So if we haven't really given up on persuasion, on outreach, on the project of working for freedom in our own home countries, why pursue what some have called the "Libertarian-Zionist" notion of a new free nation?
One answer is that, as Rich Hammer puts it, we should not put all our eggs in the basket of persuasion:
(Richard Hammer, "Let the Wookiee Win," Formulations, Vol. I, No. 2 (Winter 1993-94).)
That, then, is part of the answer. But I think there is still another answer. We do not necessarily need to look at the persuasion-and-outreach effort and the new-nation effort as competing goals, pulling us in different directions, with time spent on one counting as time stolen from the other. They can instead be seen as complementary.
Every contribution to the conventional persuasion effort also forwards the free-nation movement. Why? Because as the number of libertarians increases, the number of potential participants in the free-nation movement increases too. Successful libertarian outreach brings in that many more people to invest money in the free-nation effort, to contribute ideas to the process of constitutional design, to settle in the new nation, and, if necessary, to take up arms to defend it.
But the converse is also true: every contribution to the free-nation movement also counts, in the long run, as advancing the project of persuasion. That is why I opened this article by describing the free-nation effort not only as a possible alternative to persuasion, but also as a possible tool of persuasion.
How so? Consider: when we tell non-libertarians how a non-libertarian society would work, they generally do not believe us. They're convinced that the rich would rule, that the poor would starve, that crime and pollution would be rampant. In response, we often appeal to economic, political, and sociological theorizing that, we feel, supports the libertarian position. But our opponents have their own statist theories which, thanks to successful governmental indoctrination, they generally find more plausible.
So theory isn't enough. They don't believe our theories. We need to show them that libertarianism works in real life, not just in theory. To do this, we generally appeal to historical examples of societies with successful libertarian policies and institutions.
The problem with this approach is that none of these societies was purely libertarian. Each was a mix of libertarian and non-libertarian elements. And so it is open to our libertarian opponents to claim that the positive aspects of those societies were the result of the non-libertarian elements rather than the libertarian ones; instead, the libertarian elements get the blame for the negative aspects. We, of course, respond that they've got things backwards: for example, in discussions of 19th-century America our opponents seek to blame the depredations of the Robber Barons on unfettered capitalism, while giving government intervention on behalf of labor the credit for rising wages — while we, armed with our dusty tomes and dreary charts, insist that unfettered capitalism must be given the credit for rising wages, while blaming the depredations of the Robber Barons on government intervention on behalf of big business.1
We know we're right, of course! But the only grounds we can give for accepting our interpretation of history rather than theirs is an appeal, once more, to theory — the same theory they reject.
Once again, what weakens our empirical case in their eyes is the fact that the societies we laud for their libertarian elements generally had statist elements as well, giving statists an opening to claim that the statist elements were necessary for the society's success. And their interpretation of history seems plausible to them, because it fits in so well with their economic, political, and sociological theories — just as our own background of theory leads us to find our interpretations of history natural and obvious.
If, however, there were a successful libertarian country we could point to, one from which statist elements were entirely purged, this tactic would not be available to the statists. We would finally have a real-world test of the entire libertarian theory all at once, not just bits and pieces of it scattered across different societies in different eras. An actually existing, fully libertarian country that was socially and environmentally responsible, safe, prosperous, and humane would be the best possible tool of persuasion we could ever hope for.
It worked once before. In the 17th
and 18th centuries it was a commonplace to argue that a constitutional
republic, with widespread suffrage, periodic elections, a strict balance
of powers, and no hereditary element, was an impossible dream. The argument
of such critics was not the prophetic one that a constitutional republic
would eventually develop, over the centuries, into a bureaucratic welfare-warfare
state, but rather the short-sighted one that it would collapse, within
a decade, into mob rule, anarchy, or dictatorship. As I said, this latter
argument was common before 1776. It has not been much heard since. The
advocates of constitutional republics won their argument — by creating
the system they advocated, and thereby demonstrating to the world its feasibility.
Constitutional republics dominate Europe today, in large part because people
in those countries were inspired by the American model to work for similar
changes at home. This is the precedent that a libertarian nation should
seek to emulate.
Two Free Nations in One: Persuading Libertarians
I've talked about the role of persuasion in disputes between libertarians and statists. But the libertarian camp itself is divided by the dispute between anarchists and minarchists. Although my own sympathies lie with the anarchist camp, throughout my work for the Free Nation Foundation I have promoted the idea that the free-nation movement should be aiming neither at a strictly anarchist nor at a strictly minarchist free nation, but rather at some sort of compromise between the two camps.
My reasons for this position have been two. First, I see no point in delaying the foundation of a free nation until the anarchists have convinced the minarchists or vice versa. That dispute is not going to be resolved any time soon. If a free nation is to be established, the work must be done by the libertarian movement as it currently exists, containing both anarchists and minarchists. But anarchists may be reluctant to sacrifice time and effort to found a minarchist nation, just as minarchists may be reluctant to sacrifice time and effort to found an anarchist one. After all, each side thinks the other's favored political system is unstable and unlikely to work. The fledgling free-nation movement cannot afford to dispense with the services of either its anarchist or its minarchist supporters, so it needs to envision a goal that can attract both sides — namely, a constitutional structure that combines minarchist and anarchist elements.
My second reason for favoring such a compromise between minarchism and anarchism is as follows. As an anarchist, I think anarchist institutions are likely to be more successful than minarchist ones; hence my desire to see anarchist elements in the free nation's political structure. As a political realist, however, I realize that other nations are more likely to recognize the legitimacy of a minarchist free nation than of an anarchist one, and a libertarian country just starting out cannot afford to give the world powers any excuse to invade to "restore order" (and in addition, if the free nation holds its territory via a long-term lease from some other country, there has to be some single agency representing the free nation that can be identified as the lessee); hence the need for minarchist elements as well.
Until recently, then, I have seen this compromise between anarchism and minarchism as a matter of combining anarchist "elements" with minarchist "elements" together in a single constitution. This was the motivation behind my Virtual-Canton Constitution (see my "Imagineering Freedom: A Constitution of Liberty" series, in Formulations I. 4, II. 2, II. 3, and II. 4), which combines a centralized, territorially-based, balance-of-powers national government (the free nation's foreign-policy interface) with competing, non-geographical "local" associations (the virtual cantons).
I still defend the merits of my virtual-canton system. But now I also see a different, perhaps complementary, way in which minarchist and anarchist aspirations might be harmonized. Minarchists want some place in which to try out their minarchist ideas; anarchists want some place in which to try out their anarchist ideas. Why not the divide the free nation in two, turning one half over to the minarchists, and the other half over to the anarchists?
My first thought was to slice the
free nation's territory right down the middle, as in Figure A. But that
would leave the anarchist section exposed to the outside world, which as
we've seen is extremely risky, at least in the free nation's early years
when it is still struggling for international recognition. My suggestion,
then, is to place the anarchist region entirely within the territory of
the minarchist region, thus forming a kind of political doughnut, as in
Figure B — a free nation suitable for dunking, as it were.
Under the constitution of Outer Zimiamvia, Inner Zimiamvia would be regarded as an independent anarchy, not under Outer Zimiamvia's jurisdiction. But to the outside world, Inner Zimiamvia would simply be an internal province of Outer Zimiamvia, and so not a stateless region begging to be invaded. An analogous situation might be that of the internal republics within the borders of South Africa, which are regarded as part of South Africa's territory by everyone except South Africa itself. Placement within Outer Zimiamvia's borders would allow Inner Zimiamvia to free-ride on the national defense provided by Outer Zimiamvia, thus freeing the fledgling anarchy from the burden of having to solve the national-defense problem instantaneously, before market alternatives to government have had time to evolve.
Thus the doughnut model, like the virtual-canton model, allows the free nation to turn a governmental face to other nations. In addition, however, the doughnut model does a better job than the virtual-canton model of satisfying both the minarchist and the anarchist camps. The virtual-canton system might well be too anarchistic to satisfy all the minarchists, yet not anarchistic enough to satisfy all the anarchists; the doughnut model, by contrast, gives both the minarchists and the anarchists everything they want. Better still, those who fear that one of the systems might be unstable will be cheered by the proximity of the other system that they trust more, a system that could in principle intervene in an emergency to prevent the deterioration of its sister system.
With minarchy and anarchy side by side, each could serve as a safeguard against any un-libertarian tendencies the other might be feared to have.
The doughnut model is not necessarily an alternative to my earlier virtual-canton model, of course. Outer Zimiamvia might very well have a constitution closely similar to the one I proposed; indeed, that is what I would advocate. But if minarchists prove uncomfortable with some of the more anarchistic provisions of my Virtual-Canton Constitution — like my prohibition on a monopoly in the enforcement of rights — they can eliminate those provisions and still keep the anarchists happy, so long as Inner Zimimavia remains off-limits.
But the doughnut model offers yet another benefit; and this is where I return to my original point about persuasion. One reason minarchists and anarchists can't convince each other is that we don't believe each other's theories. Anarchists fear that a minarchist state would eventually develop into Leviathan; minarchists fear that an anarcho-capitalist regime would degenerate into gang warfare between private associations until the wealthiest and toughest won out. Neither minarchism nor anarcho-capitalism has ever been tested, as a whole, in the real world (although various aspects of minarchism and various aspects of anarcho-capitalism have been tried out at various points in history). The doughnut model offers the best prospect for collecting the sort of empirical evidence that could resolve this dispute.
For all these reasons, then, I think
there is a strong case for designing our free nation (once we get one)
along the lines of the doughnut model, allowing free-market anarchism to
take its first infant steps within the sheltering circle of the minimal
1 This dialectic goes on all the time. For years the statists held up the Wild West as evidence that the absence of gun control leads to social chaos. Now that historical research has established that the American frontier was in fact relatively peaceful, and that the violent land of shootouts and lynchings is an invention of Hollywood, some statists are beginning to take a new line, saying that if the West was peaceful it's because they did have gun control after all — citing Wyatt Earp's disarmament campaign (and making no attempt to compare violence statistics for the regions that had gun control with the many regions that relied for crime control entirely on the armed citizen, as well as ignoring the evidence that the historical Earp, unlike his many cinematic incarnations, was a murderous thug arguably more dangerous than the criminals he was supposed to be protecting people from).
Roderick T. Long is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He holds an A.B. from Harvard and a Ph.D. from Cornell. A frequent lecturer on libertarian topics, he is the author of a book manuscript tentatively titled Aristotle on Fate and Freedom.
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