This article was published in the Autumn 1997 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
International Relations for Free Nations
By Phil Jacobson
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Current Usage of the Term "Nation"
"Nationality" for a Free Society
Diplomacy Between Free Communities
Diplomacy Between Traditional States and Free Communities
Long-Run Trends

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The term "international relations" is normally used to refer to interactions between states. What then, does this term mean when applied to the affairs of a free nation? It will be useful first to clarify what we mean when we speak of a "nation" in the context of a free society. Then we can explore what patterns of diplomatic action would be appropriate to a free society. My thesis is that a lot more activity would fall into the category of "international" than is the case with statist societies.

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Current Usage of the Term "Nation"

If the members of a free society use the term "nation" to describe themselves, they should do so cautiously. They will have adopted a somewhat old-fashioned usage for this term. I have no problems doing so myself, but we who seek a "free nation" should be conscious of how our terminology differs from that of most modern politicians.

In most cases where the term "nation" is currently used, what is really being referred to is a "nation-state." In its original usage the term "nation" referred to a group of people with a common ethnicity. Usually this meant all who spoke a given language. In a few cases, it was recognized that other ethnic considerations might divide those who spoke a common language into more than one nation. Thus, for instance Serbs and Croats, who speak the same language but typically affiliate with different churches (Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic respectively) were divided into two nationalities (the "Muslim Bosnian" nationality is starting to be recognized as a third). In other uncommon cases it was recognized that religion or other ethnic considerations might make one nation out of a group of persons which spoke more than one language, as with the "Nation of Israel" (distinguished from the State of Israel).

Politicians have changed expectations regarding the word "nation." At the end of World War I, the notion was advanced that each nationality should be unified, with all its people put under the jurisdiction of a single state, each with an undivided geographic "homeland." The concern of the victors of W.W.I (most especially Woodrow Wilson) was that many specific ethnic groups had lived within Imperial States under the control of other ethnic groups. The Russians had ruled an empire which included Poles and Finns; the (German speaking) Austrians had ruled an empire which included various Slavic peoples; the Turks controlled an empire containing Armenians and Arabs; etc. The victorious diplomats gave much lip service to the doctrine of "self-determination for all peoples." While this could legitimately have been interpreted to mean a world run with libertarian principles, that was not what the victors of W.W.I meant. Instead all that was considered necessary was that each ethnic group have a state of its own, occupying that group’s "traditional" homeland (the exact location of which was often controversial). International relations would then be a function of the politicians who ran each state dealing with the politicians who ran other states.

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"Nationality" for a Free Society

If a group of individuals, all of whom believed in a free society, got together to form such a society, they might consider themselves a "nation" within the original meaning of the term. A belief in freedom in and of itself could form close enough ties between such people as to constitute an "ethnicity." But they would not be forming a "nation-state." Indeed to form any state (referring to an involuntary association, as opposed to a government based on voluntary association) would be contrary to their values.

They might, however, form various associations with one another in order to provide for common legal, police or judicial functions on a voluntary basis. But there is no necessity that one such agency be common to the entire "free nation." Indeed, the free society might be healthier if several such associations existed and if a tradition existed such that the associations were not geographically based (as has been discussed in previous Formulations articles). For purposes of this discussion I will call these associations "free governments" to distinguish them from states.

It is also possible that various factors might distinguish different libertarian communities sufficiently as to warrant the identification of more than one "free nation." Perhaps, using the Serbo-Croatian model, religious differences might distinguish different libertarian communities. There might be a Christian Free Nation, an Islamic Free Nation, an Atheist Free Nation, or even a Secular Free Nation (for those who did not want to distinguish themselves from other libertarians on religious grounds). Each of these might have one or more free governments.

What is important here is that "nationality" is less important to diplomacy than "governmental affiliation." Individuals could identify themselves with any one of a conceivably infinite number of "free nationalities," yet still identify with a free government on quite different grounds. Yet to be in a specific community which is thought to be a "free nation," the members of that community must in fact be free. They may achieve this either through a free government or through non-governmental means. In either case there will be "inter-community relations." As a practical matter it seems that what is meant by "international relations" is in fact these "inter-community relations," some of which will be inter-governmental.

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Diplomacy between Free Communities

A free community’s diplomacy with other free communities will reflect the voluntarist philosophy which each free community holds. Several concerns will emerge which traditional states usually can avoid.

One of the most important concerns is in dealing with individuals who are not affiliated with a government. While, as a practical matter, states must contend with a great many individuals who fail to recognize state authority, a given state’s official policy gives them little or no recognition. But, while there may be considerable pressure in most free communities for individuals to affiliate with one or more governments, the doctrine of voluntary relations will allow individuals to decline all such affiliations. As long as no conflicts occur between non-governmentally affiliated individuals and others, the point is moot. When two such individuals clash, there would probably be a code of ethics of some sort which each expected to operate within. Various philosophers and ethnographers would undoubtedly have devised and/or described such codes, but they are beyond the current discussion. When a non-governmentally affiliated individual clashed with a free government (I assume here that any legitimate "clash" is due to the unaffiliated person having initiated force or fraud), it too would have a code—one which in effect conscripted the unaffiliated person into the free government’s jurisdiction. Again, the specifics of such actions are beyond the scope of the current discussion.

However, on occasion, two or more free governments might clash with the same non-affiliated individual or group of individuals. In such a case each government would be claiming conscription rights over the non-affiliated individual. Some sort of extradition procedure or joint adjudication would have to be worked out between the governments.

As each free community can establish, through voluntary means, a very wide variety of laws and customs, free communities interacting with one another must be prepared either to be very tolerant when dealing with "foreign" free communities or to be very limited in their interactions. Either way, at least some rudimentary diplomacy between them would probably exist. To the extent that their values overlapped, any two free communities would tend to establish treaties, formally or informally, with one another dealing with things like extradition, or projects pursued by citizens from both communities. Such agreements might or might not be associated with free governments.

The border between any two free communities could become very fluid. While some free communities might accept as citizens only those who followed very narrow restrictive-covenant agreements, I think a great many free communities would allow quite a bit more property transfer across community lines than is common for modern states. This could be especially important when determining any judicial jurisdictions. A piece of land or an individual citizen would probably be able to move from one free community to another quickly and easily. Individuals could change these affiliations in much the same way that they currently move bank accounts.

Indeed, a free government might be set up which had little or no geographic base. It is not fraud to operate an organization anonymously, and the technology now exists to do many forms of business that way. A government might have absolutely no publicly advertised location, becoming virtual. Yet various protections could be provided to members of a virtual government’s citizens. And a virtual government might develop an excellent reputation. Some individuals might have no governmental affiliation except a virtual one.

In at least some instances, a fugitive from one free community, welcomed in another free community, would be sought for extradition by the first community. And while the second community might have an extradition treaty with the first, the treaty might not cover the behavior in question. Consider the situation where the first community prohibited divorce while the second allowed it. An individual who married within the rules of the first community might find the marriage so intolerable that fleeing to the second community seemed the only solution. In such a situation the violator of the first community’s rules could certainly be banned from returning. But any additional punishment might not be recognized by the second community. Conflict between the communities might occur (possibly a war of ostracism rather than violent war). But it is likely that, as such issues emerged, the first community would try to develop performance bonds for its citizens rather than risk damaging relations with the second community. And it is likely that the second community, while it might accept the fugitive, would not want to further risk its relations with the first community over disputes about the performance bond.

Philosophically, a free community would be under pressure to recognize new free communities and establish relations with them. While there would be no obligation to do so, a free community would probably want to establish diplomatic recognition for libertarian separatist groups breaking away from traditional states, from other free communities, and from itself. Military considerations might limit what could be done to assist the separatists. But the libertarian philosophy of earlier free communities would mean that many of its citizens will sympathize with the separatists and will at least surreptitiously support them. In the face of such sympathy, any government(s) the earlier community has cannot be expected to vigorously oppose support for the separatists, though the older free community may try to portray itself as "neutral" or "anti-interventionist."

In the event that even one free community established itself on earth, other communities would probably declare themselves ready to follow the first free community’s precedent. Soon, this could present an overwhelming task to the first free community, which would be urged to validate the aspirations of numerous communities seeking diplomatic recognition as new free communities. It seems likely that the "diplomatic corps" of one of the first free communities would need to offer a Validation Service to prospective free communities. Such a Validation Service might eventually transcend the community of its origin to become a trans-national libertarian human rights organization whose certification might be, to the diplomatic world, what certification from Underwriter’s Laboratories is to manufacturers.

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Diplomacy between Traditional States and Free Communities

A free community’s diplomacy with traditional states will have distorted characteristics for both the free community and for the traditional states. Both communities will have trouble seeing things from the other’s point of view. The traditional state will seek to enter into agreements with the free community which assume both communities follow the conventions of traditional states. The free community will seek to avoid any agreements with a traditional state that do not conform to the free community’s ethics.

A free community will need to contend with the diplomatic posture of any traditional states which impact that community. To some degree this would probably include any traditional states left on the earth. But a traditional state would have a wide variety of diplomatic postures to take, regarding a free community. A free community’s diplomats (and this might simply mean every individual citizen) cannot assume that all traditional states will behave in the same way.

To some states, any free community will be seen as a pirate haven—a place which should not be given diplomatic recognition. This happens between traditional states too. Yet there are usually communications between such traditional states behind the scenes, of roughly the same character as normal diplomatic communication. The same would probably occur with free communities and/or free governments.

Some states will dislike the free community, but will decide to deal with it out of practical necessity. These states would likely try to force the free community to pretend that it is a state. For some purposes, for some free governments, relations might still be possible. "Purist" free governments would not be likely to agree to cooperate with states. But "pragmatist" free governments might agree to limited cooperation where common ground existed. A "pragmatist" free government might, for instance, agree to extradition in well documented cases involving accusations of murder or torture. Even "purist" free governments would probably find some ways to deal indirectly with states via "pragmatist" free government intermediaries.

Some states will be totally opportunistic, taking no real philosophical position about the free community but rather doing whatever seems to serve its own interests. These would likely be treated on a case-by-case basis by "pragmatist" free governments. But opportunist states, while they may offer more liberal relations in some ways, would not be as trustworthy as states who could be counted on to stick to some principles (even immoral principles). Yet the move from opportunism to libertarianism may be the easiest for many statists, ideologically. Some free governments may choose to deal with the opportunists as a missionary exercise. Virtual free governments would have an especially lucrative opportunity in opportunist states’ black markets—and might have a good chance to subvert the opportunists into libertarian ways.

Some states will decide to give open support to the free community in at least some ways. I cannot see how a full endorsement of the free nation’s principles could be given by any traditional state, however. Consequently, relations would probably be a bit stiff at times, where the "liberal" states are conscripting their own citizens. I suspect that despite an official tolerance, these liberal states would have an especially difficult time with libertarian missionaries and virtual free governments. The liberals might wish to strictly segregate free government interactions into "approved" and "disapproved" behaviors, just to keep the "corruption" under control.

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Long-Run Trends

I believe that as we move towards the future, humans will increasingly choose to interact in free communities with or without free governments. I suspect that ultimately, virtual free governments will be the best choice for most people. But in a world of free choice, it is likely that at least some individuals will choose to live in some kind of "voluntary statism," where they mimic as best they can the "good old days" when a central organization could conscript citizens. Evolutionary pressures rarely wipe out all traces of previous evolutionary forms. After all, there are still egg-laying mammals. But these "states" will be little islands of curiosity in a sea of freedom. So most "inter-community" relations will be between free communities.

Where few non-voluntary relations occur, inter-community relations will be more efforts to accommodate differing lifestyles which need to or choose to contact one another. "Diplomacy" as we understand it—communication by politicians trying to assess and avoid the possibilities for serious conflict—may not occur except in very rare circumstances. International relations may be much more about exploring cultural differences or new technologies. So they may in fact be more about relations between "nations" than about relations between "states" after all. D

Phil Jacobson has been an activist and student of liberty in North Carolina since the early 1970s. For a living he sells used books, used CDs, and used video games.

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