Peter Thiel’s and Jason Sorens’s most recent contributions to this debate contain both much truth and much well-justified emotion. Both of them remind me of something depressing but worth thinking about when contemplating how we might get to a satisfyingly libertarian future: that maybe it just isn’t possible at all, given any reasonable future we can imagine from where we stand.
Thiel is right that the prospects for libertarian politics, especially when it comes to economic freedom, a government that doesn’t spend as much as it can lay its hands on plus 10 times more, and any widespread understanding of the coordinative possibilities of uncoerced human choice in the overall economy seem grim right now. He offers three possible paths to a solution. Each one’s actual potential to create a libertarian world seems no more obviously plausible than the very old fashioned libertarian movement “folk activism” path — that of convincing people of the merits of a libertarian social order, mind to mind, often one mind at a time.
And it isn’t just the technological problems (Can we really make space colonies and seasteads serve as desirable places to live and work as long as land is still an option? To what extent can virtual freedom of mind and communication spread into the movements of our bodies in meatspace?). Other obstacles make these sort of “change the game, don’t just change minds” solutions thin reeds on which to weigh a libertarian future.
The great advantage of seasteading and space colonies is they can in their nature be homes for a limited self-selected few, and thus a quick path to creating a libertarian world without having to change this world into one. That’s a definite advantage. But it runs into another very apt point made by Jason Sorens — small libertarian spaces aren’t apt to be very safe in a larger unlibertarian world. As he baldly states it, “a free society in the current climate will annoy or even enrage powerful people.”
Thus, maybe not only a fully libertarian world, but any possibility for a safe, livable space for tiny libertarian subworlds on the sea or in space (outer or cyber) really does rely on what Leonard Read thought from the beginning of the modern American libertarian project: convincing enough people of the benefits of a world that allows or even embraces “anything that’s peaceful.” It could be that this is necessary for any sort of hope for an active, living libertarian practice. Perhaps we must convince enough people such that we no longer live in a world in which powerful agencies of monopoly violence will be enemies of any enclave of freedom. We need to convince enough people that they should not allow, or do not want to participate in, the snuffing out of libertarian practice, so that whatever brilliant social hack a libertarian can make real will also survive.
Which leads us back to Patri and Peter’s legitimate doubts about how well that project of folk intellectual activism can ever really work. I can’t claim with authority that it will. But I’m not sure what else can. As excited as I am about seasteading or space colonies, I’m not sure I’ve heard any ideas that I think are very likely to be better. (I’ll be very happy to discover I’m wrong.) Good thing that it’s the rare libertarian activist who has to know or believe in his ex post success in major-league world-changing to feel like it’s worthwhile to advocate and educate for liberty’s benefits.