Free Societies Are Neither Popular nor Disciplined

Both Seasteading and the Free State Project face a similar problem: a free society in the current climate will annoy or even enrage powerful people. Certainly, any society that seeks to legalize the production and export of narcotics currently prohibited in the United States would incur swift and overwhelming retribution from the federal government.

Considerations such as this counsel caution in advancing more radical libertarian agendas.

But caution may be difficult to “enforce.” Libertarians are an independent bunch. It will be relatively easy for the press to identify the more eccentric members of a community and play up their statements and actions as somehow representative of the effort at large. Certainly, anarchist civil disobeyers (not every anarchist is a civil disobeyer, and not every civil disobeyer is an anarchist) have generally promoted their Free State Project affiliations in New Hampshire and have sometimes seemingly chosen civil disobedience actions with the intent to divide and alienate the local libertarian movement (e.g., defacing public property, disobeying speed limits and refusing to cooperate with police, etc). If a libertarian-themed seastead attempts to prohibit, say, open production of methamphetamines, the organizers of the seastead should be aware that some people will take the proscription as a challenge rather than a deterrent.

At that point, it will be up to the seastead leadership to enforce a crackdown on nonviolent, consensual activities in order to forestall a more injurious intervention from public authorities. To have the freedom to act in this way, the seastead organizers will want to avoid organizing their society on internally democratic lines, especially since “early adopters” of such a strategy are likely to be those most alienated from American society. They are not likely to support a moderate, cautious leadership.

These considerations may seem farfetched, but as long as we are taking the seasteading concept seriously, we should take these possibilities seriously as well. The initial implementation period is always the most vulnerable time for any “revolutionary” political strategy, peaceful or not.

Also from this issue

Lead Essay

  • In this month’s lead essay, Patri Friedman charges libertarian activists with falling victim to bias: Specifically, they seem to suffer from the belief that advocacy and education are enough to change public policy. Friedman suggests otherwise, and he recommends that much more effort be put into demonstration projects that will show how a libertarian world might work. Not only will these projects do more than mere persuasion toward winning the war of ideas, but they will also allow individual libertarians to live in a much freer society, and they will exert competitive pressure on existing governments to reform themselves. Friedman discusses several such projects, including his own, the Seasteading Institute.

Response Essays

  • Brian Doherty argues that Patri Friedman is both right in some ways and wrong in others. He’s right when he argues that incentives and technologies largely determine the shape of government today, and create the problems that libertarians tirelessly point out. He’s wrong, however, to dismiss “folk activism” entirely: Not only has it achieved some clear though incremental good, but it also helps create more libertarians, and at some point, this effort seems likely to bear fruit. Not only that, but seasteading relies on some folk activism itself, in convincing a large number of people that it would be a good idea to try. On the whole, Doherty welcomes seasteading as one of many possible paths to a more libertarian world.

  • Jason Sorens reviews several important historical developments, including the rise of free trade in the nineteenth century and the growth of the welfare state in the twentieth. He concludes that structural change matters, and that incentives play a larger role than ideology in determining the type of government we get. He then considers several of the key challenges of both Seasteading and the Free State Project, as well as a few encouraging developments in recent politics that appear tied to the rise of the Free State movement. He counsels patience, but also proposes several strategies for moving forward.

  • Peter Thiel shares the belief that politics is mostly futile, a conclusion he reached after years of activism. In particular, he believes that democratic politics is unlikely to bring about libertarian outcomes. Fortunately, politics is just one sphere of human life, and it’s possible, he argues, to create technologies that minimize its reach. Thiel describes a “deadly race” between politics and technology, in which human freedom is the prize. The goal of libertarian activism should not be to win in politics, he argues, but to escape it.

Letters to the Editor