This article was published in the Autumn 1999 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation

Forms for a Free Nation, Alternate Visions

By Philip Jacobson

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Design Variables
Grand Design
FNF's Role

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Given the desirability of a free nation, it is appropriate to discuss how to bring one into reality. Such a discussion presupposes the desirability of mapping out a path and deliberately following it. But is there one best path? Might several paths be taken at once? As with other libertarian concerns, there will probably be many ideas to choose from. I submit, however, that an examination of possible paths to a free nation will require a clearer view about the possible forms for the free nation itself than has yet been achieved at the Free Nation Foundation.

Many articles have been written for Formulations about what a free nation could look like. Most authors have described specific institutions of a free nation rather than providing an overview—myself included. Often, an author has provided institutional guidelines that might be appropriate to a wide variety of "free nation" models—that has certainly been my own intention. But in some cases, distinct models seem to have been in the authors' minds. Upon reviewing some of the articles in Formulations, trying to get an idea about how to build a path from here to there, I realized that the various authors have some distinctly different visions of where "there" is. These distinctions impact heavily on any thoughts about a path.

FNF's Statement of Purpose gives plenty of latitude for a wide variety of images. It merely refers to: "voluntary institutions of civil mutual consent". Rich Hammer's prospectus for FNF, Toward a Free Nation, offers considerable latitude as well, saying,

"I will tell one scenario. A movement comes together and, over time, builds credibility. It gathers a long list of supporters. It collects options on assets to invest in the new country. Then it watches and waits for the right opportunity. The government of some poor, third-world country, struggling to stay in control, indicates willingness to deal: to lease an underpopulated, but habitable, corner of itself…"

but also,

"While this scenario seems to me as likely as any, we can envision other scenarios if we take a broader view."

Before committing serious resources to the project of building a free nation, it would be useful to reflect on the several visions we have used in our thinking up to now—sorting them out, comparing and contrasting them. Paths for each vision can then be discussed. The paths themselves can be compared. Decisions by individual libertarians to support specific visions may be influenced as much by the nature of the paths offered, as by the characteristics of the societies offered as goals.

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The following images of a free nation represent some distinct points of view about how to implement a libertarian society. Where applicable, references to articles from past issues of Formulations are noted (e.g. F3.1 = Formulations Vol. 3, No.1). This list may not be exhaustive, but it does reflect some of the variety of views which are held about a free nation.

Ideological Colony: A community created for true believers only

A number of individuals associate with one another on the basis of their common beliefs. They may or may not have a common background or common residence prior to this association. They decide to establish an ideologically pure community where they can all live together. They may decide that little or no contact with other people will be sought.

Examples: Ayn Rand's "Galt's Gulch" model; L. Neil Smith's notion of a libertarian haven in Colorado. Seed Planted: An economic colony with working libertarian traditions

A community is founded around one entrepreneur or a group of entrepreneurs who organize and fund local enterprises, which provide economic viability to the community. The political foundation of such an enterprise is usually less clear, being some variant of the traditional classical liberal concept of a "republic".

Example: Rich Hammer's description in "A 'Nation' Is Born" (F5.1). Weeds Cultivated: An international entrepreneurial haven

Emphasis on providing a free market environment, which is attractive to a wide variety of local and international entrepreneurs. Political factors are incidental, so long as they support the legal foundation of a free market.

Example: Hong Kong. While Hong Kong was not deliberately or overtly libertarian, many libertarians talk of a "New Hong Kong". Rich Hammer picks up where this talk leaves off in "Why Not a New Hong Kong?" (F6.4—to be fair, it must be noted that Rich himself would rather the new one be planned). Social Machine: A well crafted contract

In the tradition of the American "Founding Fathers", many libertarians believe that a well-written constitution, if honestly implemented, would produce a libertarian society. Essential elements which must be agreed upon are calculated and written down. Then an effort is made to put the constitution in practice. A certain ideological commitment from the citizens of the society is expected, but total ideological uniformity is not.

Examples: The constitutions of Roderick Long (F1.4) and Michael Darby (F6.1). Similar thinking seems to exist in the long-range plan outlined by Rich Hammer in his "Letter of Resignation" (F6.3). Feudal Domain: A proprietary community

Emphasis is on the ownership of land by a single individual or an organization (partnership or corporation) with clear title to a tract, typically no larger than a large "estate". The land is governed as the proprietor sees fit. It is assumed that proprietors with correctly perceived self-interest will use libertarian principles in governing the community so as to maximize a stable source of profit. It is also assumed that non-proprietors will respect the property code which supports the proprietors claim to ownership.

Example: Spencer Heath's "proprietary community" as advocated by Spencer MacCallum today (F3.4). Cultural Engineering: Cultivating tendencies of an indigenous population

An "indigenous" culture is found which already has libertarian tendencies. Negotiations are conducted with the local peoples for non-local libertarians (usually meaning individuals from Western Civilization) to take up residence. It may be assumed that the outsiders will have international diplomatic or economic connections which would be useful to the locals. The outsiders would likely live according to Western ideals and culture, and might serve as a "modernizing" influence on the locals—or at least a bridge between the locals and more technological parts of the world.

Example: Michael van Notten's discussion of possibilities in Somalia ([as described by Wayne Dawson, F6.2). (It should also be noted that, in principle, this technique has important similarities to that used by formal "Libertarian Parties" to cultivate a libertarian society within modern Western regimes.) Virtual Free Nation: A local manifestation of a multigeographic alliance

Individuals living in separate geographic areas associate politically, form a "nation" without a large contiguous land monopoly. Through various libertarian institutions, individual citizens enjoy the benefits of libertarian society simply as members of these institutions, or as residents of very small pieces of real estate which are territories of the virtual nation.

Examples: The system of the Law Merchant in the middle ages; to some extent the Hanseatic League; modern virtual models based on electronic networking (this is my own favorite, though it's not a pre-requisite to anything I've proposed within FNF). Anarcho-Syndicalism: Collectivist libertarianism

Communities of voluntary association based on occupation. Essentially labor-union-based societies where each union owns an "estate" sized piece of land where it is the government. Unions from various occupations which had close geographic proximity would be expected to maintain cordial relations, somewhat like those of states within a confederacy. Individuals would be free to join, leave, or form unions based entirely on voluntary relations.

Example: The system advocated by Prof. Noam Chomsky. For a brief time this was tried with some success in parts of Spain during the Spanish Civil War, but was destroyed when the Fascists won that conflict. (to top of page)

Design Variables


How much isolation does the community have from other communities, from other individuals? Is this isolation primarily physical or social? At one extreme, the community tries to avoid contact with outsiders, as with the Galt's Gulch model. At the other extreme, anyone who behaves properly is welcome inside the community and citizens frequently travel beyond it, as with the New Hong Kong model.

Impact: A highly isolated community needs to be more self-sufficient, and might have higher start-up costs, in order to achieve this. An open community might share resources with neighbors more readily and be less prone to suspicion from outside communities, and thus be able to get its economy going sooner. Geographic Integrity

Does the community occupy a distinct piece of real estate? How independent is its real estate from the influence of other communities? At one extreme, the nation has a highly "fragmented geography", with many small, separate pieces, as with the Virtual Free Nation model. A similar effect might be achieved by a confederation of proprietary communities or anarcho-syndicalist communities. Most other models assume the other extreme: a contiguous chunk of land, usually much larger than an "estate" with various rights of way allowing passage to other lands.

Impact: If a free nation is thought to need little geographic integrity, efforts to find a "home" for it are of less concern and may not play much part in designing a path. A network of citizens might be established in a wide variety of locations, possibly allowing for more personal preferences regarding climate or cultural surroundings.

If the free nation requires a fairly large piece of real estate all in one place, this burden becomes an early limitation on the establishment of the free nation. Significant financial resources would probably be required before beginning the new nation, both for land acquisition and for the building of infrastructure. New citizens would have to accept local physical and cultural conditions.

Source of Legitimacy

Why does anyone have authority within the community? At one extreme is an "unwritten" constitution, composed of generally understood traditions combined with contracts between specific parties, possibly backed by a traditional arbitration system. At the other extreme would be a legal structure which affects the whole community, with a system allowing for formally changing its rules.

Impact: If it is assumed that a common tradition is held by all, the project is held up until a critical mass of people is found who adhere to the tradition and who want to participate. When formal systems are used for legitimacy, they may be spelled out for newcomers who can simply agree to them.

Problems will exist to the extent that different subcultures are found within any nation. The power to enforce ethical standards is a scarce resource. Different subcultures will allocate it with different priorities. Interactions between individuals from differing subcultures within a nation can present significant problems. Though this experience can also be a source of strength as the free nation's diplomatic tradition shifts from internal focuses to "foreign relations". Experience with formal contracts via diplomacy between subcultures might be planned as an early priority for the free nation.

Ideological Purity

This problem is related to the "sources of legitimacy" issue above. How much conformity to an ideological standard is expected of those who participate in the community? How is it to be enforced? A free nation might in theory be formed where citizens do not need to pass a litmus test for libertarian beliefs. But at the least, citizens and resident aliens would need to be respectful of one another in practice. Most models demand no more than this intrinsically. While any model might impose severe standards on citizens, only the "Ideological Colony" models tend to do so as proposed.

Impact: Requiring a high level of ideological purity from citizens, regardless of the details of the "pure" philosophy being enforced, would limit the appeal of the free nation considerably. High "purity" requirements would mean that a critical population size would be harder to obtain. So an early design concern would be the recruiting of citizens, no matter how well financed the project was.

Requiring lower levels of "purity" would allow for easier citizen recruitment. A nation might be founded which had only a small number of citizens with high ideological commitment. But in such a case, alternative motives for non-disruptive behavior on the part of citizens would need to exist.

Designer or Owner Control

How much control is exercised by the designers and/or founders of the community over the institutions of the community? At one extreme the designers set up a system of control for owners (who may be the designers themselves), who have an ultimate say in any changes. Citizens could then take or leave the whole community and its rules. At the other extreme is a system where individual citizens have a part in the creation or dismantling of specific rules that affect them.

Impact: To the extent that the free nation is proprietary, it may need a more careful design than would a more broadly conceived and held community. While ideological conformity may not be in the mind of the proprietor, many other features will be important, and will often require careful thought. By contrast, a relatively loose plan would probably be more useful where the ownership of the community is decentralized. Openness

How public is the effort to form a free nation? How much publicity should the free nation seek once formed? At one extreme the nation, or at least a realistic and detailed description of it, is not open to view by non-citizens. At the other extreme, nothing is deliberately hidden about what the nation per se does and/or allows, though individuals may choose to conceal their private lives—and a public relations campaign actively advertises the community.

Impact: Finding new citizens and supporters in the "outer" world will be easier if nothing is hidden. However there may be a significant risk that established regimes of ideologies might want to thwart the formation or the success of the free nation. Then some camouflage may be appropriate, as Spencer MacCallum advises in "New Countries and the Case for Keeping One's Cards Close to One's Chest" (F5.1). (to top of page)

Grand Design

While I personally like the Virtual Free Nation model the best, I do not advocate it as an ideal for all libertarians. Indeed, I do not advocate any of the above models for anyone else. Instead I advocate all of the above. More specifically, I think that the ideal situation for a free nation would occur as an ecology composed of many individual free nations, probably involving examples of most if not all of the above models—and more.

Each of the free nations would grant each of the others the right to exist (as long as they remained libertarian in character). I think it would be advisable for this to be done formally, to the extent that formal institutions exist. In many cases two or more free nations would cooperate in various ways. Perhaps some free nations would form one or more confederacies, where selected "governing" functions were given extraterritorial recognition. Murderer suspects might, for instance, be regularly and smoothly extradited between the nations within such a confederacy.

But I would expect the strongest social ties within this future libertarian ecology to be other transnational institutions. A citizen of one free nation might, for instance, find it more useful to hold a widely accepted credit card than a widely recognized passport. Other associations might also serve the citizen who engaged in international travel or business, such as an insurance policy, employment with a transnational firm, a religious affiliation, or family ties. Even such "trivial" things as frequent flier miles might give the traveler's life more security and/or flexibility than a passport.

The multiple free nation ecology is likely to contain a great deal more cultural diversity than would any one of the above models. "Cultural exchange" programs would be useful to enhance appreciation of the varied fruits of freedom within the general free ecology. These programs would not require formal support by everyone to be effective. And the isolationist communities might refuse to participate. But misunderstandings might weaken the freedom of those in the ecology, so efforts to educate varying communities about one another should qualify as a valuable form of informal diplomacy.

There may be no ideal, easily planned path from here to there, however. A lot of assumptions involved in "planning" might be arbitrary. For instance, which of the free nation models should come first? My answer is simple—the one which first gets adequate resources to get started. This might be the model which is most popular with libertarians worldwide, the model which attracts the most dynamic entrepreneurs, or simply the model which gets the most lucky breaks.

My advice to those who want to support the free nation concept is: support the model you like the best (for whatever reason) but be prepared to praise, perhaps even to embrace, any model which succeeds in the real world. And then, once a single free nation exists, somehow, somewhere, do not rest content until there are others. While you, as an individual, might indeed choose to move from one vision of liberty to another at various times in your life, you will gain more than this option.

The environment that will be the most supportive to the survival of a free nation will be formed when the most choice is available for individual libertarians. By choice I mean far more than simply freedom from coercion—the minimum requirement for a libertarian society. I also mean real, practical options. Traditionally, libertarian theorists have emphasized the desirability of freedoms like free trade or freedom of lifestyle. This is good and proper. But we also need freedom to choose between visions of freedom. This is valuable to each libertarian in a way that totally transcends consumer considerations. For as long as there are various visions of liberty enacted in reality, there will be a larger mass of satisfied consumers with a vested interest in the notion of a free nation. And there will be more experimentation with how the visions might work. There will be a market for free nationhood. And as it is with any other industry, a market is always preferable to a monopoly.

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FNF's Role

While it is appropriate for FNF to actively plan for the model Rich Hammer described in Toward a Free Nation, it is also appropriate, as Rich also said, to "envision other scenarios" and "take a broader view". Indeed I will state outright that it is in the best interests of FNF to take that broader view. We should seek to find and encourage any and all free-nation efforts in the real world (except perhaps those which wish to remain hidden from our view). We should evaluate them using tools like Rich Hammer's report card (F4.3). And we should feel free to invest the prestige of FNF in an endorsement of one or more of them, while refraining from endorsing any but the most credible of efforts.

But one thing I feel that FNF should not do is to endorse one vision to the exclusion of the others. In my opinion this adds an unnecessary limitation to the concept expressed in the Statement of Purpose. More significantly, it would remove FNF's support from the concept of an ecology of free nations, and the more fruitful opportunities that a true market for free nations could provide. 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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