Freedom from the State?

Quite the idea, but is it the right one?

Ten years ago, a young man named Jason Sorens published an article in The Libertarian Enterprise, a libertarian web journal (admittedly, one with a tendency toward sensationalism). Sorens challenged his fellow libertarians on their collective failure to elect any libertarian politicians to any federal positions. He also summarized his ideas for a new secessionist movement. His ideas got a large response, and he began organizing what he called the Free State Project. The project’s goal is to inspire 20,000 people to move to the state of New Hampshire, in an effort to turn the state into a kind of bastion of libertarian ideals, and perhaps get more momentum going in the political sphere, at least in New Hamphsire. At the time of this writing, they have 10,641 participants, and 889 of those have actually made the move (this from their website).

I actually heard about this from a Facebook ad for a documentary called Libertopia, which was made to explain the Free State Project and profile some of the key members of it. I watched the trailer for the movie, and it fascinated me, not necessarily because I agreed with all that was said, but because it was just a such a strange new idea to me.

The core idea behind libertarianism is the minimization of the state. Of course, there’s a wide range of specific philosophies and approaches to bringing this about, but all of them focus on this one idea of a small state, if any. Now, I quite like this ideology in theory, but it gets a little (by which I mean a lot) more complicated in practice. Rousseau was famous for saying, “Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.” It’s true that humanity has become tied up and bogged down in an often complex and rigid system of rules and regulations, many of which may seem utterly meaningless. Taxation is particularly odious to libertarian thought, as it sometimes comes across as nothing less than state-sanctioned robbery.

On the one hand, I can agree with these complaints. I agree that there are some areas where government intervention and interference is too strong, especially areas that relate to such personal matters as sexual orientation or religious preference. I think government, particularly the American government, has taken far too much into its own hands as regards gay rights and freedom of religion, with many politicians being elected based on their Christian beliefs rather than their qualifications, and states being as conflicted as they are about the marriage rights of gays and lesbians.

That said, I still think that government is both necessary and proper, even though it often falls short of its obligations and oversteps its restrictions. For one thing, few are the societies or civilizations that last long with no civil government in place and no law but a call for mutual harmony and peace. I feel I should note here that this isn’t a universal principle of libertarianism, but more of a hallmark of anarchism (one of its subgenre). A number of libertarians, particularly minarchists, simply insist on a smaller state, one that more or less only provides physical protection and prevention of fraud, theft, etc.

Now back to the Free State Project! As I mentioned before, I think this is a really interesting and novel idea. The founder, Sorens, noted that this movement is another political migration, in the vein of the Mormon move to Utah or the dispersion of Amish communities. But what’s the right response to it? As I mentioned, I like the idea of an increase in freedom, especially in the areas of religion and sexuality. I don’t think that the state should be minimized almost to the point of disappearance, but I do think it’s possible that American politics is due for a thorough examination, from the ground up. While our representative democracy is a fairly good system, and one that’s definitely much better than the governments in many other countries, I think there frequently is an abuse of power, on both sides of the aisle. The Free State Project might be taking a more extreme approach to fix this than I would, but maybe they have the right idea: A restructuring of state-level government, one piece at a time.

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