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Anti-Statists and the Free State

The Free State Project is the latest effort by libertarians to get out from that millstone around millions of necks known as the United States Government. Their plan calls for them to recruit around 20,000 participants, immigrate en masse to a state with the proper qualifications (under 2 million inhabitants, relatively compatible ideologically, etc.), and in one fell swoop kick out incumbent politicians and vote in their (libertarian) people. They then plan to minimize government interference as much as possible, including federal interference. They maintain that secession from the U.S. is an option for their project should the feds play hardball, although it remains a last resort.

Now, you may ask, and with good reason, what all of this has to do with anti-statists. Such “libertarian homeland” projects have arisen before, and they never got anywhere. To some, the F.S.P. might very well smack of ineffective reformism. Attempts to do “as much as possible” inevitably depend on one person’s perception of what is possible, which may be utterly inadequate for the next person.

Now, these are all valid concerns, but I believe the Free State Project adequately addresses them. The FSP is different from many other “libertarian homeland” projects in that it’s not asking for your money. All they are asking for is a pledge that within five years of the appropriate state’s being chosen, you move there and help to vote the right people in. In addition, the FSP, unlike so many other projects, isn’t planning to move to some as-yet-uncreated artificial island, location in outer space, or hidden base in the interior of an extinct volcano. They are interested in real, already existing places, with identifiable loci of power, and they are compiling an impressive amount of data in order to determine the optimum target.

Some anarcho-capitalists might object to the requirement that the participants in the Project vote.  After all, some have made a persuasive case that voting only legitimizes the state.  However, an equally persuasive argument holds that voting is potentially legitimate even for anarchists, as a method of self-defense against state-aggrandizing politicians.  The real reason most anarchists don’t vote seems to be that voting is ineffective, since we are a tiny minority everywhere.  Because voting is ineffective, it only legitimizes the state.  But if voting were to become effective, through a project like the Free State endeavor, then it would justifiable as a method for attaining the end-state of a perfectly private, voluntaristic society.  Voting per se isn’t illegitimate; after all, private organizations use voting for many purposes; it is voting’s association with public coercion that makes it distasteful under the current regime. Finally, the participants are not being asked to actually become voters, who go out every election day; they are being asked to vote in about ten races, tops, and maybe do some campaigning during those races. That is the extent of their obligations.

Furthermore, the strategy of the FSP is different from that of the Libertarian Party and many other “infiltration” schemes. They are not content with gradually influencing the political landscape, gaining power surreptitiously from within. Their plan is to concentrate libertarian electoral strength in a single state and to effect a complete revolution in that state’s policies within the span of years, not decades or centuries.

Now, as for how much government it will be possible to eliminate that quickly—that really depends on you. The FSP is still in an embryonic state, roughly a month old with only a little more than 260 members. The character of the people who join now will for a large part determine the character of the organization in the future. If it is co-opted by a bunch of partyarchs, this “free state” might at most have lower taxes and fewer gun laws. If those who join are anarcho-capitalists and agorists, we might see some real change and some real freedom. Of course, the kind of freedom we as anarcho-capitalists support will almost certainly be unacceptable to the federal government, thus leading us to the option of secession.

So the FSP isn’t completely useless, you might say, but is it useful? After all, what they are aiming for is just another state, albeit one more free than most. How does this goal help me, the person who wants no monopoly on force, period? Here are some thoughts.

  1. Individual Sovereignty Secession. If this “free state” does succeed in their secession, it’s going to be a clarion call for every anarchist, not to mention micronationalist and separatist, within a thousand mile radius. They will descend like prospectors in a gold rush, buy some land, and promptly declare “The Kingdom of Me” (or “Us”, or of “My Bridge Club”, or whatever). Anarchistic autonomous zones will spring up all over the place. Do you think the “free state leaders” will raise a stink about someone’s seceding from them, after they have just done the same? Plus, the success of this project will inspire other secessionist movements, which will lead to “2nd generation secessionists,” which will lead to more autonomous zones around the country, perhaps the world.
  2. Counter-economics. Even if the “free state” doesn’t go in for all-out, full-bore secession, it can still be useful for anarcho-capitalists. The shadow economy, also known as counter-economics, is one of the most effective strategies for fighting the State (remember, every dollar you keep out of the hands of the State is another nail in its coffin).  Just think about what you can do in this field with no prying eyes (except for the occasional satellite, hard to get rid of those right now) to worry about.
  3. Potential recruits. One of the biggest problems anarcho-capitalists run into when it comes to activism is recruitment. They run into the catch-22 of needing recruits to have a large, active organization, but needing a large, active organization to get recruits. Let’s say that worst comes to worst, and the FSP moves the 20,000 libertarians into the state but doesn’t succeed in making any real changes. That still means that there are at least 20,000 people in close geographical proximity to you that you know are at least somewhat agreeable to your beliefs. Converting a libertarian who hasn’t quite let go the idea of the State is much easier than converting the typical dyed-in-the-wool statist. In addition, you know that these recruits are active and committed to the ideals they embrace. They just pulled up stakes and move to another state all in the name of liberty, didn’t they? This may not be the stunning success of full secession, but it does put the anarcho-capitalist movement in a stronger position.

The FSP is a long shot. That’s obvious. It is not guaranteed, it is not foolproof, and it is not easy. Getting autonomous zones out of this will be an even longer shot. It will require intelligence, dedication, and moral strength, all qualities I find good supply among anarcho-capitalists. We may have sweat a bit harder on getting the numbers needed, but this to is do-able. It may be a long shot, but the payoff makes it worth it.

August 16, 2001


John Robinson is helping organize the Free State Project.

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