This article was published in the Autumn 1997 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
Entangling Alliances: For and Against
by Roderick T. Long
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Yogic Flying in a World of Gravity
International Agreements
Crime Across Borders
Military Action

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Yogic Flying in a World of Gravity

When the first libertarian nation is born, some time in the 21st century, it will most likely be a small and singular enterprise, an island of freedom in an ocean of government. How will it interact with its neighbors?

When we ask ourselves this question, we often think first in terms of resisting foreign invasion. This is an important issue, and one that I have discussed in earlier articles. (See, e.g., "Defending a Free Nation," Formulations Vol. II, No. 2 (Winter 1994-95).) But there is, thankfully, more to international relations than war, and libertarians need to think about what sort of peaceful interactions the government of a free nation would engage in vis-a-vis other nations.

And I assume that a fledgling free nation (call it Sukhavati) would indeed need a government—not so much for domestic law enforcement, for which a competitive market in security provision might well be adequate, but in order to turn a governmental face toward the outside world and thus gain the kind of legitimacy in world opinion that could help to forestall the threat of invasion in the first place. (Or at least, those regions of the free nation that are adjacent to other states will need to have a government; this does not rule out the possibility of a sheltered anarchist region somewhere within the free nation's territory. See my "One Nation, Two Systems: The Doughnut Model," Formulations Vol. III, No. 4 (Summer 1996).) As readers of The Lord of the Rings may recall, the way to hide among goblins without being roasted alive is to disguise oneself as a goblin.

But even if the need for a government is acknowledged, some libertarians may question why that government should need to interact much with other governments. After all, they may say, the government's purpose is to protect the rights of Sukhavati's citizens, not to engage in international meddling.

True enough. But this core task of rights protection might nevertheless involve a higher involvement in international relations than is often recognized. The first libertarian country will probably be small and weak; it will not be able to afford to go it alone, but will need to cultivate friendly relations with other countries. Yet on the other hand, it will need to take care to avoid being caught up in the kinds of "entangling alliances" that could ultimately undermine its citizens' freedom.

The ancient Taoist philosopher Zhuang-zi (also spelled Chuang-tzu), in Book 4 of the Inner Chapters, records an (imaginary) conversation between Confucius and his favorite disciple Yan Hui. Yan Hui expresses his intention to become a political advisor to a local prince. Confucius (Zhuang-zi's mouthpiece) tries to discourage Yan Hui, warning him that those who get involved with rulers tend to get themselves either corrupted or killed: "The Tao [the natural path of freedom] doesn't like to have alien things mixed in with it!" But when he sees that Yan Hui cannot be dissuaded, Confucius reluctantly agrees to help Yan Hui succeed in his political career, and offers him the following advice: "It is easy to refrain from walking; the difficult thing is to walk without touching the ground." By "refraining from walking" Zhuang-zi means withdrawing from political life, while by "walking without touching the ground" he means engaging in political life in such a way as to avoid being touched or damaged by it. This tricky feat of political levitation is precisely what is required of Sukhavati's government.

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Sukhavati, as I'm envisioning it, would be a nation-state with sovereignty over a clearly-defined territory. In other words, it would have borders. And unless Sukhavati is an island, these borders will also be the borders of neighboring countries. Now in most countries, the passage of people and goods across borders is tightly regulated by the government. This would not be the case in Sukhavati (though of course Sukhavati's neighbors would probably choose to continue such regulation). But what would the border look like?

There are three possibilities (some combination of which is also possible). First, the strip of land adjacent to the border might be owned by the government. Most libertarians will resist this idea, but there could conceivably be military benefits to it, if border patrols were needed to protect Sukhavati from hostile incursions. (By hostile incursions I mean not peaceful job-seeking immigrants, who would naturally be welcome, but invading armies.) And such government ownership could be legitimate if the land became government property by sale, gift, or homesteading. But this solution also poses dangers; do we really want the government to be in a position to control access to the border by owning all the adjacent territory?

The second possibility is that land along the border might be privately owned. In that case, access to the border would be controlled by individual owners, and any patrolling would have to be done by them (or at least with their permission). This could pose a security problem, since an adjacent hostile power (call it the People's Republic of Naraka) could simply buy up portions of borderland and move its troops across a purely theoretical border. (In such a case, the new Narakan owners would obviously not consent to patrolling by the Sukhavati government.)

The third possibility is that the land might be public property in the non-governmental sense of public property outlined in my article "In Defense of Public Space" (Formulations, Vol. III, No. 3 (Spring 1996)). Such property would be open to the public at large, i.e., to anyone whose use did not interfere with a similar use by others, and thus could be policed and patrolled by any peaceful armed force, public or private, without need for prior permission. (What constitutes a legitimate use would be settled by common-law litigation.) The land could become public through a grant to the public by its owners. This possibility, by allowing universal access, avoids the dangers of monopoly control posed by the government-ownership possibility, while also avoiding the difficulties of patrolling inherent in the private-ownership possibility. However, the difficulty of getting all the relevant territory into the hands of either the government or the public by voluntary means may tell in favor of the private-ownership system after all. But a fourth possibility is a mixed system, with some borderlands private, some public, and some governmental.

Another issue that needs to be considered is that of infrastructure that crosses borders: roads, railways, phone and internet connections, etc. In neighboring countries like the People's Republic of Naraka, government is probably heavily involved in the provision of such services. How would this affect their hookup with the corresponding services in Sukhavati? In the case of roads and trains, perhaps an agreement could be worked out between the Narakan government and private road-building or railway companies within Sukhavati; the Sukhavati government might not need to get involved. This could be another reason for preferring the mixed system for borderlands to the public-property system; if connecting roads or railways are built on private land within Sukhavati, their legality is secure, whereas building infrastructure on public property would be open to challenge in court.

There may be areas of transportation and commerce in which neighboring countries might like to deal with a governmental transportation service within Sukhavati, but this is not necessary. For example, consider the Eurail system within Europe, where a train ticket bought in one European country will entitle its bearer to ride the trains of any other country that is part of the Eurail agreement. Suppose the countries surrounding Sukhavati have a similar system. If Sukhavati were an ordinary (i.e., statist) country, then the government rail systems of these other countries would call up the Sukhavati Department of Transportation and negotiate an agreement; but if there is no such department, all is not lost; for they can simply negotiate with individual rail companies in Sukhavati directly. (Presumably, the Sukhavati business community would find it in their interest to fund a Chamber of Commerce that could help put foreign governments in touch with domestic providers.)

Phone and internet services might seem more complicated, since these need to be coordinated into a single uniform system in order to be effective. But we should not conclude that such services are "natural monopolies" where competition is inappropriate; on the contrary, I have no doubt that market incentives are sufficient to inspire successful coordination among private service providers. After all, there are different providers of credit cards and ATM machines all over the world, but all the cards fit into the same size slots, without any law mandating that they do so.

Consider the analogous case of mail delivery. Suppose someone in the People's Republic of Naraka writes a letter addressed to someone in neighboring Sukhavati. The writer drops his letter into a public mailbox, thus activating an international mail system based on mutual recognition and agreement (American stamps will get mail to Turkey, Turkish stamps will get mail to America). My question is not about cost; the Sukhavati mail service can always deliver mail from Naraka with postage due. My question is rather this: once this Narakan letter arrives at the border, what agency within Sukhavati is authorized to pick up the letter and deliver it to the addressee? There will naturally be competition in mail delivery within Sukhavati; but does that mean that just anyone calling himself a mailman can pick up the incoming mail and do who knows what with it? Or does the Sukhavati government have to step in and authorize certain mail services as "official"?

I don't think so. Presumably the Narakan government will want to send its mail on to "legitimate" delivery services only, and the addressees will probably want the same. So couldn't these private companies compete for a contract with the Narakan mail service? I see no reason for the Sukhavati government to get involved at all.

Airline service poses still less of a problem, since planes can fly over borderlands rather than through them. The one difficulty that might arise is that foreign countries might demand certain security procedures from Sukhavati's airports before they let their own planes land there; but in that case, I would expect market incentives to supply such airports. Indeed, there might be two classes of airports in Sukhavati, a high-security variety catering to those who desire such security, and a low-security variety, catering to those who are willing to bear extra risk for the sake of convenience or privacy.

A related question is that of passports; here, though, I do see a need for government involvement. Sukhavati will obviously have open borders, and will not require passports of those entering the country; but most other countries, including those bordering Sukhavati, will continue to make passports a condition of entry (at least until libertarianism sweeps the world, at which point the concerns of this article will be moot anyway). So the residents of Sukhavati, if they hold no citizenship elsewhere, may have to have a Sukhavati passport in order to leave the country. This is one government function that private enterprise cannot take over, because other nations will not take seriously any passport that is not issued by a government.

So the Sukhavati government should go into the business of granting passports. But this poses a potential danger: the power to give suggests the power to withhold. A government that can make its citizens prisoners by arbitrarily withholding passports (or charging prohibitively high fees for them) is something no libertarian country can afford to put up with. One solution is to make the right to a passport (at nominal cost) a matter of constitutional law; the only danger is that the People's Republic of Naraka might not take Sukhavati passports seriously if they know that everyone is guaranteed a passport. But if that problem arises, one way around it might be to have different grades of passport, with the lowest grade available to everyone, and the higher grades available to those who meet whatever criteria the Narakan government has in mind. A more attractive solution is to make visits from wealthy Sukhavati tourists such a boon to the Narakan economy that Naraka's government will be forced to bite its tongue and accept Sukhavati's rubber-stamp passports, assuming that Sukhavati residents have any interest in visiting the squalid concrete wasteland of Naraka anyway. (This may be the appropriate place to reveal that Sukhavati and Naraka are the Buddhist heaven and hell, respectively.)

Other security questions exist. Suppose the People's Republic of Naraka complains that Sukhavati's lax security procedures and open border policy make it a safe haven for drug dealers, terrorists, and money launderers using Sukhavati territory as a secure base for illegal operations in Naraka. How should Sukhavati respond?

In the worst-case scenario, Sukhavati might have to impose stricter regulations on its own citizens in order to forestall a Narakan invasion. (I have argued elsewhere ("Analysis of the Constitution of Oceania," in Forum Proceedings: Constitutions (Autumn 1993)) that restricting, within certain limits, activities that invite invasion by foreign powers may be justifiable (though never desirable) on libertarian principles.) But perhaps Naraka can be bought off (if Sukhavati is economically strong enough) or simply defied (if Sukhavati is militarily strong enough).

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International Agreements

Sukhavati cannot afford to be too politically isolated; I would expect it to have embassies and diplomatic delegations in countries all over the world, to defend its interests both by negotiating with foreign governments and by publicizing its case so as to win over popular opinion (as well as trying to obtain official diplomatic recognition from as many countries as possible). Indeed, the principal task of Sukhavati's foreign policy would be to shine a bright light of publicity on Sukhavati itself in order to make it very difficult for the international community to concoct an excuse to invade.

Also, while Sukhavati cannot afford to assume the military risk of undertaking to defend its citizens anywhere they may go in the world, it might fall under its charter to offer consulate services for Sukhavati citizens in foreign countries who run into passport problems and the like (or, alternatively, such services could be an "extra," available to citizens for a fee, like insurance).

But what kinds of diplomatic relationships should Sukhavati enter into? Should it sign international treaties of any kind? Certainly it shouldn't seek such entanglements out, but in some cases they may be unavoidable. For example, it might be necessary, at least in the short run, before Sukhavati has built up sufficient military clout, to buy off its aggressive neighbor Naraka, paying it not to invade. This agreement might take the face-saving form of a mutual non-aggression treaty, conjoined with an agreement on Sukhavati's part to provide Naraka with economic aid. (Such a treaty could always be renegotiated once Sukhavati's position grew stronger. On a more cheerful note, Sukhavati could also offer economic aid to third-world countries in a thinly-veiled trade for diplomatic recognition.)

A more perplexing issue is that of arms-control treaties, test-ban agreements, and the like. It might be in the interest of the Sukhavati government to forswear the use of certain kinds of armament in exchange for verifiable assurances of the same by other countries. But the Sukhavati government would have no authority to hold its private citizenry to the same terms, so its treaties might not be taken very seriously. (I'm not talking about the most destructive kinds of weapons, which the Sukhavati government would probably have to ban anyway, not only for itself but for its citizens, in order to prevent a major-power invasion.) In any case, any treaty negotiated by the Sukhavati government should be subject to ratification by popular referendum.

What about applying for United Nations membership (assuming there'd be any hope of acceptance in the first place)? On the one hand, recognition by the U.N. would give Sukhavati legitimacy in the eyes of the world, making it clear that the free nation is not a lawless territory in desperate need of a foreign invasion to "restore order." (Nations like Switzerland and Taiwan manage without U.N. membership, of course; but Switzerland is more firmly established in world opinion as a legitimate nation than Sukhavati would be, and Taiwan's position right now is pretty precarious. I would be delighted to see a country like the United States or Canada pull out of the U.N., but then, those countries can afford to.) But on the other hand, U.N. membership carries strings with it; various agreements and covenants by which a free nation could not in good conscience abide (of course, other nations don't abide by them either, but that's small comfort), as well as the increasing threat of U.N. encroachments on national sovereignty. So I incline to the view that Sukhavati should ideally avoid U.N. membership, but might well be advised to try to join it (temporarily, at least) if such a status turns out to be vital to its defensive interests.

A less dangerous form of international entanglement is the role of peacemaker. (I am referring to diplomatic, not military, forms of peacemaking.) It could be in the interests of Sukhavati to help negotiate cease-fires and peace treaties elsewhere in the world (as well as monitoring elections, etc.) as a form of public relations, and to enhance Sukhavati's legitimacy. Also, under the general rubric of public relations, I'm not sure whether government involvement is needed in order for a nation's athletes to be permitted to participate in international competitions like the Olympics, but if the state's rubber stamp is required for the Sukhavati air hockey team to compete, the Sukhavati government ought to stamp accordingly. (State funding is not appropriate, and also not needed.)

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Crime Across Borders

Issues of crime create special diplomatic problems. Would Sukhavati allow criminals residing within its territory to be extradited back to their country of origin (say, Naraka)? Presumably it makes a difference whether the crime with which the person is charged is a genuine crime under libertarian principles, as well as whether the criminal has a good chance of receiving fair judgment in the Narakan court system; but if those conditions are met, should the Sukhavati government extradite the accused person, or instead demand that Naraka bring suit against the accused in a Sukhavati court? The case for Sukhavati agreeing to extradite accused criminals to Naraka is that doing so might be a precondition for getting Naraka to extradite Sukhavati's own fugitives back to Sukhavati; but against this is the moral risk of false arrest. My own feeling is that the Sukhavati government should not serve as a lackey for statist regimes; if a foreign nation regards itself as having a claim against a resident of Sukhavati it should be required to prove its claim in court, under Sukhavati rules of justice. Also, foreign agents coming to Sukhavati to forcibly extradite the accused criminal themselves (as the United States repeatedly claims the right to do) should be treated as common kidnappers unless they, too, can prove their case in court. If, as a result of this policy, the Sukhavati judicial system is denied the right to extradite its own criminals from Naraka, so be it; think of it as one fewer criminal that Sukhavati has to deal with.

This raises the related issue of diplomatic immunity. Many countries exempt visiting dignitaries from their laws, in exchange for similar exemptions in return. It would be nice if Naraka gave the gun-totin', pot-smokin' Sukhavati ambassador diplomatic immunity from prosecution under Naraka's statist laws; but securing this goal does not justify depriving Sukhavati citizens of their right to legal recourse against genuine crimes committed by the Naraka delegation while in Sukhavati. I think diplomatic immunity, like extradition privileges, is a luxury that a libertarian state must do without.

There is, however, a way in which Sukhavati could recognize diplomats from foreign nations as being on foreign rather than Sukhavati soil while in their embassies. Since Sukhavati will presumably have a liberal secession policy, portions of land whose owners wish to house foreign embassies can simply secede from Sukhavati and form a mini-state within a state; and this mini-state could then affiliate with a foreign nation.

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Military Action

When, apart from resisting an actual invasion, should Sukhavati engage in military action? Many libertarians would say: never. On the whole, I agree. War is extremely dangerous for freedom. Abroad, it creates enemies (hence Switzerland has maintained its independence through a consistent policy of military non-intervention); domestically, it can serve as an excuse for increased government power (hence Randolph Bourne declared, "War is the health of the State.").

Yet I can envision cases in which it might be to Sukhavati's interest to form military alliances with other states, committing itself to defend them in exchange for their promise to defend it. Such entanglements are undesirable, but might be necessary for a fledgling nation without a strong enough military presence to go it alone. Perhaps, rather than undertaking to defend Naraka from its enemies, and thus getting bogged down in Naraka's wars, it might be better for Sukhavati to pay Naraka economic aid in exchange for Naraka's military protection (a simple fee-for-service relationship). But this approach has its dangers. In the wake of the Greco-Persian Wars, a number of Greek states allied with Athens to form a mutual-defense league to forestall any future Persian invasion. Member states were given a choice between providing military equipment or paying a fee; most states found it more convenient to pay the fee, while Athens always supplied warships instead. The result was that the mutual-defense league was converted into an Athenian empire, with all the member states paying tribute to Athens, who controlled all the military equipment. Thus it might be safer, for the sake of Sukhavati's own security, to supply its own military support rather than paying potential enemies to expand theirs.

Another problem for military policy is the question of intervention. Suppose a libertarian revolution breaks out in the People's Republic of Naraka. Certainly the Sukhavati military should not help the Narakan government put down the rebellion; no treaty can justify participation in an unjust war. But should Sukhavati actively intervene on behalf of the rebels, or should it remain neutral? Neutrality should be the general policy, and intervention the exception; but the exception might sometimes be justified, if a potential enemy could be converted, through a change of regime, into a friend and ally (or possibly even expanded territory, if the new regime, or some geographical portion thereof, petitions for annexation by Sukhavati). Such intervention can also be risky, however, since it might earn Sukhavati the suspicion and hostility of other states in the area. Certainly the free nation should not undertake the anarcho-imperialist project of making the world safe for libertarianism. In brief, intervention should be approached only with great caution; and a public referendum should be required in order to authorize any such military adventure.

Perhaps the strongest case for military intervention would be those areas that have seceded from Sukhavati and since turned oppressive (assuming that the oppressed within those areas have requested Sukhavati assistance). Pockets of statism within the free nation's boundaries pose a greater security risk, thus strengthening the case for intervention; at the same time, foreign countries are less likely to be alarmed at Sukhavati intervention into mini-nations within its own borders, mini-nations that those countries probably never recognized anyway, thus weakening the case against intervention. However, the goal of intervention should not necessarily be the reincorporation of the seceded territory into the Sukhavati nation-state, but rather the liberation of the oppressed. Such a liberated territory might of course petition for annexation, just as any foreign nation can; but such requests should not automatically be granted. The value of expanding Sukhavati territory must be weighed against the value of competition and diversity; ideally there should be not one free nation but many, experimenting with different versions of libertarianism (and different foreign policies!), so that we may learn from the results and so that the corruption of one libertarian government will not entail the corruption of them all. One role for Sukhavati diplomats might be to study and advise other fledgling free nations, should any emerge.

Now I've been talking about the Sukhavati military as if it were fully equipped like any other army, with its full complement of tanks, fighter jets, and machine guns. But this raises a final question with which I will close: How will the Sukhavati military obtain its weapons? Arms sales are precisely the sorts of thing that tend to provoke larger powers into intervention; plus there's simply the logistical problem of getting all this equipment into the country (and having to pass it through adjoining countries, if Sukhavati is inland). Once Sukhavati is established and accepted as a country, it will have an easier time purchasing arms, but it needs them from day one. And the prospect of a bunch of libertarian computer geeks trying to negotiate illegal arms sales on the black market does not inspire confidence. (Perhaps Sukhavati will emerge in a territory that already possesses arms, but in that case it's likely that it also already possesses an entrenched military class, which poses problems of its own.) This is perhaps one of the reasons that Rich Hammer has always stressed that the free nation movement must command considerable resources and considerable public acceptance before it actually acquires territory. Most free-nation projects proceed in the other direction, trying to establish sovereign territory first, and build wealth and acceptance later. I support all such projects, and hope they succeed; but they do face significant problems that I have not yet seen satisfactorily addressed. D


Roderick T. Long teaches philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and writes poetry when he can get away with it. He likes to be pestered with idle chatter at

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