Sacred Choice: Myths for a Free Nation
By Philip E. Jacobson
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In the Beginning
Ideas of Personal Style
Archetypes - Consumers of Choice
Archetypes - Providers of Choice
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A free nation, given the libertarian tradition of FNF, would be a place where individuals could pursue any interest, so long as neither force nor fraud was initiated against others. Thus, the central value of such a community would be choice. Individuals or specific groups within the free nation may place greater status on other values. But choice would be the central value of the free nation itself. The mythology of this community would need to elevate choice to a sacred position. The heroes of this mythology should be those who helped widen the citizens' choices or who used those choices especially effectively. The most treasured of heroes should be those who made, and who make, the whole system possible.
A mythology is a primary cultural reservoir of a community's values. It can be expressed in many ways, and may contain many elements. Usually, however, it is mostly literary in nature. It is made of stories, sometimes so short as to be little more than "sayings", expressed through the various media commonly used by the culture. Some of the literature may be quite formal, expressed as advice or codes of behavior. Some material may be regarded as sacred, some seen simply as vehicles for popular entertainment or somewhere in between.
Through the mythology, a view of the community's and its members' "proper" or ideal place in the larger world will be expressed. Sometimes this will be expressed in reverse, by portraying obviously undesirable models. The literature may include histories of the community or its ancestry, stories of persons who exemplify the community's values, or expressions intended to convey other standards of beauty, virtue, or other value. The ideals expressed may be seen as attainable, but may also be seen as impossibly extreme goals towards which citizens should, nevertheless, strive.
An attempt to provide a detailed blueprint for any culture's mythology
would be an immense task. Still, it is possible to lay down a few suggestions
about key points, which might assist those who wish to write the literature
of or for a free nation. While surveying the elements which ought to be
included in a free nation's mythology I will mention some, which might
simply be borrowed from existing cultures. But I will try to emphasize
elements which must yet be written, elements requiring innovation within
the free nation's culture.
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In the Beginning
For most cultures there is some creation mythology which explains how the culture came into being. For a free nation this would include its history. But it would also include a history of the idea of freedom—in particular that idea's struggle against statism in the last few thousand years. It will be important to stress that the involuntary servitude, typically found in various forms in statist societies, is not normal to humans and that the free nation can trace its ideals back to the pre-civilized nature of man.
The creation myth should be as accurate as possible, not simply an appealing story, as is often the case with creation myths. Where meaningfulness conflicts with absolute accuracy, most cultures have felt the need to make their histories more meaningful at the expense of truth. No doubt this pressure will exist with a free nation as well. I urge that the writers of a free nation's mythology include any embarrassing historical elements in an effort to add credibility to the proud moments they also portray.
The libertarian movement has a fairly weak creation myth as of this writing. Typically there is a general reference to the "Republican" movements arising out of the revolutionary spirit of the late 1700s, and little more. Roderick Long presented an excellent lecture which gives much greater detail and meaning to the origins of libertarianism as a social movement, and the transitions it has gone through up to the present.1 Unfortunately, Roderick has not yet provided us with a written version of his analysis, but we at FNF are urging him to do so. Working from the other end of history, I have written historically oriented material for FNF regarding families in a free nation (Formulations, Vol.4, No.3) and regarding the origin of the state (Formulations, Vol.5, No.1). My historical essays are intended to provide at least one version of a libertarian "creation myth" to explain man's natural tendency towards libertarianism and how it has been curtailed by most of civilized history.
Another issue of "origins" is the fact that the libertarian tradition
from which FNF is derived (that of the American libertarian movement) has
cultural traditions that may not be entirely appropriate to all free nations
worldwide. Other traditions of freedom should be made known to our free
nation, and our myths and other traditions should be explained to any free
nations (or pro-freedom movements) which emerge from other world traditions.
They will be different. What counts as a desirable choice in one geographic,
economic, or cultural context may be quite different from the preferences
in another place and time. "Origin" myths shared between free nations can
help to bridge these gaps and make it easier to establish good relations,
both political and otherwise.
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Ideals of Personal Style
To portray choice as sacred to a free nation we will need to show individuals in the act of choosing. In dealings with others, an individual should be encouraged by the free nation's mythology to adopt the standard of mutual self-interest. The choice of living alone or acting in ways that do no harm to others should also be validated. But a free nation is a community concept, where each individual would have a relationship with other individuals. Honoring the wishes of those who wish to live alone is consistent with the notion of a free nation, but it does not foster a free nation per se.
The theory behind a free nation's mythology can draw valuable lessons from game theory. In game theory terminology, free nations should be portrayed as "positive-sum" environments. The term "positive-sum" is used to denote arenas where no one must lose, because the process of play results in an overall increase in "value" (defined in terms of items or conditions which players desire), as opposed to "zero-sum" or "negative-sum" situations. A zero-sum situation is one in which the total "value" to be won is fixed—for one player to gain, another must lose. A negative-sum situation is one where the total "value" is diminished in the course of play, requiring at least one player to lose.
The free nation's mythology should stress that mutual self-interest
is best achieved via positive-sum situations, that the individual should
avoid zero-sum and negative-sum situations whenever possible. Further,
the individual should be encouraged to place value upon even higher orders
of positive-sum relations. Rob Bass (currently a graduate student in philosophy)
and I have coined the terms "superlative-sum" and "supreme-sum" to describe
even more desirable situations within the positive-sum arena. A superlative-sum
situation is one where, in addition to the fact that play produces an overall
increase in "value", no single player loses "value". A supreme-sum situation
is one in which each player gains at least some "value" during the course
of play. The free nation's mythology should provide rich models of each
of these positive-sum situations, teaching that the exercise of choice
can be good for all.
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Archetypes—Consumers of Choice
A number of key archetypes should be stressed by a free nation's mythology. An "archetype" is an idealized role, with which individuals might be compared or which individuals might aspire to. A key archetype is that of the person who knows that they are free, and who uses that freedom to best advantage. The story's characters may or may not be lucky or be blessed with resources. But idealized characters would need to know, or to be able to learn, what they can change and what they must adapt to. However, the stories must not leave the impression that being in a free nation solves one's problems automatically. Instead the stories should show that freedom expands opportunity for those who choose to take it.
Western and other civilizations already provide us with versions of this archetype, which can be adapted for use in a free nation's mythology. If these are adapted, however, it is important that only positive-sum models be idealized. And as a real free nation comes into being, stories should be written which reflect the new opportunities offered by that real situation. By no means could any literature exhaust the possibilities available to real free individuals, but the free nation's mythology can provide a wide selection of choice arenas and stress that the choices are only limited by individual creativity.
Because the free nation is a community, not just a philosophy, its mythology might praise individuals for making choices that benefited other individuals. This is one way of encouraging mutual self-interest, but it should not involve criticism of individual choices that have no obvious benefit to others. Criticism of purely personal satisfaction would diminish the value of being free to choose in the first place. But an individual who very obviously does something which is self-satisfying is also providing a good role model for a great many other people. It can be good for most people to follow their own judgment, simply as a matter of mental health. By honoring this need, the mythology of a free nation would encourage guilt-free enjoyment. Additionally, by honoring individuals who happily avoid social interaction, a positive basis for a free nation's limited interactions with such individuals could be established.
Invisible Hand oriented literature, in the tradition of Adam Smith,
will probably contribute directly or indirectly to the free nation's mythology.
This can provide a positive basis for incorporating the pure individualist
into a free nation's ecology. Free nation mythology can portray the benefit
to the community as a whole of the "good individualist" (one who does not
initiate force or fraud) by showing individualists as vehicles for community
choice via Smith's Invisible Hand. Communities often make group decisions
without consciously thinking as a group. The combined force of many very
private decisions is what forms a market. Encouraging individuals to be
true to themselves when making key choices, even when this requires purely
"selfish" decisions, will facilitate the formation of healthy markets.
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Archetypes—Providers of Choice
The archetypes of the providers of choice are also of prime importance. A provider of choice might be the creator or discoverer of new choices—an artist, scientist, philosopher, craftsmen, or explorer. These persons make known a new choice to the community, though they may not provide it directly to other individuals. Again, the possibilities are almost endless. It should be noted that the writers of the mythology themselves would be this type of creator. The myth writers should provide themselves and all other creators of choice with ample praise.
The category "providers of choice" also includes those who deliver tangible choice in quantity to others—the producers. Most cultures praise producers, providing a number of models for a free nation's mythology. Cross-cultural borrowing in this way could have the added advantage of portraying choices that citizens do not normally see, thus endorsing a wider variety within the free nation itself.
Especially significant among producers are the entrepreneurs—those who put together the means for producing value in quantity. Typically, in the libertarian tradition most associated with FNF, that of the USA, the term "entrepreneur" is applied only to someone who creates a for-profit economic enterprise. But many other kinds of entrepreneurs exist and these should be explicitly acknowledged by the mythology of a free nation. Those who found charities, those who organize festivals, religious missionaries, neighborhood watch organizers, those who establish interest groups or political factions—all these are entrepreneurs too.
Maximum choice in a market will be provided when the fewest barriers
exist for those who wish to enter that market. The opportunity to be a
provider of choice should, therefore, be seen as open to all. Honor should
be accorded wherever entrepreneurs find voluntary consumers and establish
enterprises free from initiated force and fraud. Libertarian doctrine predicts
that, without artificial monopolies granted by a state, all occupations
will be more open to entry than is commonly the case in statist societies.
The mythology of a free nation should, therefore, portray providers of
choice as coming from a wide variety of backgrounds. Special training for
such backgrounds could, of course, enhance the performance of providers
of choice in some situations, and this could be portrayed. Entrepreneurs
who found guilds or unions might be portrayed as adding quality to the
lives and productivity of members of various professions. Indeed, the model
of a worker-owned enterprise, fully competitive with other entrepreneurial
forms should be explored as an honorable option. But there should be no
effort to praise the formation of new monopoly interests, which use force
or fraud to maintain competitive advantage. And there should be models
of individuals who successfully contribute to various professions without
purely traditional training or "professional society" endorsement.
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Since a free nation is fundamentally a political concept one of its most important values should be the availability of political choice. And for this aspect of our mythology, we must be especially creative. The libertarian tradition of the USA is especially poor with regarded to models of political choice and entrepreneurship, though it purports to be otherwise. USA libertarians tend to associate politics almost exclusively with elections, thus completely ignoring the origins of the term "politics".
Of Classical Greek origin, "politics" originally referred to the affairs of the "polis": the city-state, the community. Political activities included a wide variety of community organizing and collective behaviors, both in and outside formal governance. Much of the process was open to participation by "ordinary" citizens, whose participation was considered virtuous. Indeed Classical Civilization (that of the ancient Mediterranean region, including Greeks, Romans, and others) granted citizens much more inclusion in all political processes than is true of modern Western Civilization. (Though to be fair, it should be noted that there were often more slaves than citizens in Classical societies.)
Today in the USA public affairs are thought to be the domain, primarily, of paid professionals. The public affairs which are not handled by career bureaucrats, specially trained and licensed for government posts, are handled by professional politicians who are part of a special class with its own networks, ethics, and methods of recruiting. Ordinary citizens are encouraged by the official mythology (conveyed by public schools and mainstream journalism) to voice their opinions from time to time, but to accept that a plurality of a plurality—the support of a small minority of citizens—is sufficient to validate the policy decisions of state officeholders. Ordinary citizens are taught by the official political mythology that this process sanctifies their conscription into whatever activity the politicians or bureaucrats deem appropriate.
The notion of an ordinary citizen entering electoral politics in order to reform it is vaguely idealized by the official mythology. But real political networks give no real support to anyone but their handpicked members. The idealistic ordinary citizen who tries to reform the system quickly realizes that they have no access to the political networking which is required for real empowerment. Indeed, when a newcomer displays a motive to reform the system this commonly prompts members of the established political networks to stop cooperation with that newcomer.
Yet one can be very "political" without being a political leader. A citizen can also be a consumer of political services. Most citizens recognize (both intuitively and objectively) that the political systems of Western Civilization are largely corruptible. An unofficial but powerful popular mythology in the USA presents electoral politics as inherently "dirty". This unofficial mythology urges the ordinary citizen to stay out of other forms of "politics". However, the unofficial mythology encourages various types of private corruption, including tax evasion and black market transactions.
The "corrupt" leader, by contrast, is allowed to use "political" techniques to gain advantage, according to the unofficial mythology. And these "political" concerns involve much more than elected office—they involve all forms of influence, ranging from special networking relations with politicians, bureaucrats and judges who issue edicts, to simple publicity campaigns waged by media connections within these same networks. The question of who has such network influence can also be critical when decisions are made about financing for a given project, whether based on charitable or profitable motives, and whether based on private or government funds.
Yet, contrary to the unofficial mythology, there is not just one big network for the "corrupt"—there are a number of sometimes independent, sometimes allied networks maintained by many powerful interest groups. What is in fact endorsed by both official and unofficial political mythology in a statist society is an imbalance of political power. "Well connected" persons are expected to be involved in the "corrupt" practice of being a consumer in a powerful network. "Honest citizens" are encouraged to stay out of such things. Put more directly, the political mythology of the statist society says: if you are part of the privileged class, you may participate in political networking, otherwise you should wait patiently for "reform", allowing the established political networks to run over your interests.
The official/unofficial mythology exhorts "ordinary" individuals to avoid forming or participating in what I call "full-spectrum" political networks. Citizens are urged to avoid developing financial networks capable of starting new businesses (instead, letting formal banking institutions manage this process). They should avoid developing relationships with lawyers who are able to network with the politicians, bureaucrats, and judges (instead, letting those "professionals" make "independent" judgments). They should avoid developing public-relations skills and avoid trying to influence media forces (instead, letting the press report "objectively"). They should not join interest groups with the idea that their individual interests will ever be served (instead letting interest-group officers do "what's good for everyone"). Above all, they should never, never, associate themselves with others as a militia, capable of providing mutual physical defense.
The mythology of a free nation needs to develop a model of the average citizen, networked into full-spectrum political structures. Only one model for this exists, to my knowledge, in Western Civilization, and it has been thoroughly condemned by Western political mythology. This is the model of organized crime. But, if you please, dear reader, exercise that age-old literary skill: the willing suspension of disbelief—for a few moments. Imagine social relations of the sort found within a crime syndicate being legally available to ordinary citizens. And imagine that competition between individuals in such organizations and between such organizations was accomplished without violence. While the Western political mythology (both official and unofficial) presented to "ordinary" citizens insists that this is impossible, that same mythology ignores the fact that among the rich and powerful, this is exactly what happens. Returning to "realistic" perceptions of the world, one might be tempted to conclude that something magical occurs among rich and powerful persons, which allows their organizations to function with non-violent diplomacy. If there is such magic it is to be found in their mythology. When it comes to practical political action, rich people, going to expensive private schools, are taught to network. Ordinary people, going to public schools, are taught to obey.
Given, at long last, real political choice—including the choice to leave the free nation itself—the citizen will be faced with two revolutionary facts. First will be the absence of the involuntary connection to authority, which has been the burden imposed by political culture since the dawn of civilization. No longer a slave, no longer a serf, no longer even a conscripted citizen—the citizen of a free nation would be under no moral authority to accept involuntary subservience.
Yet this political choice will be accompanied by a second revolutionary
change—the acquisition of political responsibility—which ordinary civilized
citizens have been able to avoid for thousands of years. Freedom and responsibility
go hand in hand. Those who voluntarily choose to follow the advice of others
or to make contracts with others are still choosing, and still responsible
for themselves. A free nation's mythology should remind the individual
that, whatever the standard of choice, no person can give responsibility
for their choices to another.
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A political entrepreneurial myth for a free nation should encourage the formation of full-spectrum political networking by and for all citizens. The "professional" networking currently common to many college educated persons in Western society can serve as a partial model. But such purely economic networks are usually limited in scope and scale.
A free nation's mythology needs to portray the creation of each of the many forms of networking which exist in the real world in a libertarian context. Let me review a few types.
A political entrepreneur can form a network simply by keeping in contact with persons who have similar interests. Good will generated between friends can be tapped when support is needed, even if such expectations were not present when the friendship began.
But a political entrepreneur could consciously cultivate a goal-oriented network. The original meaning of the term "political party" reflects this. Political parties, before the emergence of the election-oriented American model, were collections of politicians and their allies with full-spectrum networking, usually led by one or two prominent politicians. Thus there were "parties" associated with each of the prominent political leaders in ancient Rome, and "parties" organized around prominent British politicians prior to the American Revolution. In promoting certain interests, political parties did not always expect to dominate a regime. They typically had overt agendas, though these might be little more than advancing their members' status within the society.
More formal relationships emerge when political allies commit to long-term broad-based relations in "syndicates", which fix memberships and obligations. (The term "syndicate", more popular in Europe than America, does not inherently imply criminal intent.) Unlike most modern "political parties" a member of a syndicate expects more than the promotion of some legislative agenda. Syndicate members usually expect mutual support along a full spectrum.
Networking models from outside the US can also be helpful. In third-world nations, family-based networking is often full spectrum, and perhaps models drawn from these cultures could be modified for a free nation. A traditional third-world family can count on its members to act collectively as a bank, to help find needed goods and services at bargain prices, but also to help find legal assistance or to help minimize harassment by government or by private enemies. Similar family networking served as a basis for social organization in Classical society, and provided the basis for merchant organization in Europe up almost to modern times. Craft guilds also served as a basis for networking in Europe's past, along a more syndicalist model. At its height, European commercial networks coordinated to the extent that they produced an independent, transnational legal system: the Law Merchant.
Full-spectrum politics will be needed by a free nation regardless of whether the model of free nation being conceived is "virtual" (as I advocate) or "limited geographic monopoly" (as advocated by Rich Hammer and others). The limitations of this paper prevent me from elaborating on this point. However, it is my contention that all successful societies with advanced division of labor employ full-spectrum networking, though it is not necessary that each individual in such a society be able to join such a network.
By no means does the networking required by a complex society conform to libertarian standards. Many of the models above have decidedly anti-libertarian characteristics. Initiated force or fraud can be a key tactic in a full-spectrum network. Criminal syndicates and family organizations have existed for a long time. Thus the mythology of a free nation must take care to modify many, if not most, of the models of full-spectrum networking which are available. But each of the networking models above can be formed using positive-sum relations and portrayed as such by a free nation's mythology. (For those with a concern that full-spectrum networks will stimulate a competition for influence which is at odds with the notion of "law and order", I recommend my essay "Property as Law in a Free Nation", Formulations, Vol. 6, No.1).
Perhaps the most important characteristic which must be included when portraying networking in a free nation mythology is the freedom to move between networks, leaving one affiliation to join another one, to form a new one, or simply to stay autonomous. The model of Classic political parties allows for this. Syndicalist models found amongst European leftist libertarians today also allow such mobility. The ultimate political choice for the citizen is thus preserved—the ability to make an alliance, or not, voluntarily.
Given the freedom of each individual to choose any political affiliation,
political entrepreneurs can lead their networks into the most extreme of
political choices for the free nation—the decision to secede from it. At
this point the political entrepreneur becomes an international diplomat.
Hopefully this choice will not be as radical as it sounds to us now, and
it should not be portrayed as being much different from the diplomacy needed
by networks within a free nation. The ideal entrepreneur of our mythology
must be shown to be able to transcend the barriers between one community
and another, between one legal tradition and another, facilitating cooperation
between widely varying interpretations of the basic libertarian theme.
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The mythmakers of a free nation will be confronted with a peculiar irony, as they attempt to portray the rich mixture of choices, both potential and actual, which must characterize any free nation. For it will be impossible to characterize the product of the endless churning of an invisible hand using any static model. Each sovereign citizen of a free nation will be making a unique path. In some ways each citizen will be a sovereign nation unto themselves. Yet when any two citizens choose to interact in a voluntary association, the common ground these citizens form between them will be a unique little nationality as well. When an entrepreneur succeeds in luring many citizens, often unknown (even unknowable) to one another into a community of consumers, here too will be a unique sovereign entity. So that even if no formal secession occurs from the free nation, even if (in theory) there is a single universal code of acceptable conduct for all citizens, it will be a sea of little nationalities—ever shifting, never settling into a simple pattern for a mythmaker to portray.
Perhaps, using some of the interactive literary forms which computers
now make available, some of the dynamics of a true free nation can be conveyed
by future mythmakers. But even here, the mythmaker must not assume the
role which most mythmakers of the past have taken. The mythmaker must not
attempt to establish a monopoly for any given myth. For just as each individual
citizen within the free nation must assume full responsibility for choices
made, so the mythmaker cannot assume that responsibility. The ultimate
portrayal of a free nation, its citizens, and their interactions should
be shown, by the ideal mythmaker, to be just a speculation about what real
citizens would produce in the real world. The ideal free nation should
foster many mythmakers and many mythologies—perhaps encouraging each citizen
to consider making a myth for themselves. The ideal mythmaker should convey
the need of the ideal myth reader to choose one or more myths from a wealth
of mythologies—none of which is an ultimate truth. D
1 "The History of Libertarianism," given 2 June 1991 at the home
of Craig Springer in Raleigh, NC.
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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