L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 132, August 6, 2001
Did I Mention, Let's Secede?
Update: Free State Project
by Jason S.
Special to TLE
The ball is rolling! I've received over 200 responses to my essay in last week's The Libertarian Enterprise, over 95% of them positive. So far 220 people have signed up for the email list I've created on Yahoo for announcements relating to the project. That means we are already a little over 1% of the way toward the 20,000 member target.
The purpose of the email group I've set up is to discuss a pledge and bylaws for the group. I'd like to achieve something of a consensus on these before sending them around for signatures. If you are already a member of the group, expect a posting soon with my proposed drafts for these documents. You'll then have an opportunity to send your comments in, which will be compiled and posted as a digest. Then the next round of commentary may begin. At certain points I may conduct polls on certain elements of these documents if there is some point of disagreement. If you are not yet a member of the group but want to be, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The group is extremely private-it is actually not accessible by the web, and neither members nor non-members can see the email addresses of members.
I also wanted to take the opportunity to answer as best I can a few frequently asked questions about this project. Here is the Free State Project FAQ version 1.0.
Q: Isn't secession dangerous? Won't we suffer the fate of the Branch Davidians?
A: I have several responses to this question. First, it is possible that I overstated the importance of secession in my essay. The point is to take over a state government and then advance liberty as best we can. At some point this pursuit may require actually seceding or threatening to secede. However, there are various political tools at our disposal, and secession is just one of them. Second, as I pointed out, no modern, democratic government has used force to prevent secession-to my knowledge, since 1933, when Australia used fiscal appeasement to forestall Western Australia's secession. Third, the Branch Davidians, the Weaver family, and the Montana Freemen were all kooky. That doesn't mean that those who were murdered deserved to be, but it does mean that the federal government was able to marginalize them easily. It won't be so easy with us: we are not a militia, we are operating within the law, and we are building a "big tent" coalition of classical liberals, constitutionalists, pacifists, and the like. We'll be as respectable as the Cato Institute.
Q: Won't the state we're trying to move to try to forestall our efforts somehow? (Voting restrictions, strict anti-growth laws, etc.)
A: Possibly they will try, but there's not much they can do in the long run. Vermont provides a good example for us. Most people know that leftists have taken over the state of Vermont, and that there is now a backlash of old-style Vermonters (called "Take Vermont Back!"). However, the backlash appears to be impotent-they simply don't have the votes. What not many people know is that the takeover of Vermont was planned in the early 1970s by hippies from Yale University (cue "Twilight Zone" music). Thanks to Dick Crockett for forwarding me a 1972 article from Playboy about this. It's called "Taking over Vermont," and the story was written by Richard Pollak. Here are some excerpts:
'The document is "Jamestown Seventy," a little-noted treatise written
by James F. Blumstein and James Phelan, two young visionaries out of
Yale Law school. "What we advocate," they write, with a calm that
suggests nothing more is at stake than a change in library hours, "is
the migration of large numbers of people to a single state for the
express purpose of effecting the peaceful political takeover of that
state through the elective process."'
Of course, Vermont didn't undertake such measures, and the leftists did take over the state. I suspect we would be able to succeed as well, especially if we choose a state where the residents are already largely sympathetic to our philosophy, such as some states in the West or South, or New Hampshire.
Q: What's to prevent non-libertarians from moving in after us and destroying our experiment?
A: Maybe nothing, but here are some ideas. First, people that want a free ride aren't likely to come to a state known for its strict free-market policies. Second, I am open to the suggestion that immigration laws against non-libertarians are justifiable in a libertarian society that still has a majority-rules government. The reason is that non-libertarians would immediately begin violating people's rights by voting for government programs. Keeping them from establishing residence would be a kind of self-defense. Third, and perhaps the most viable solution, we can implement tight and explicit constitutional rules that prevent majorities from bringing back bad laws.
Q: I like the idea of your project, but I don't want to move to a desolate state with no jobs like Wyoming.
A: Most of us don't either, judging from the number of responses I've got along these lines. Wyoming was an example I used in my essay, but I'm not convinced it would be a good target state. A lot more research needs to be done.
Q: What are your proposed criteria for choosing a state?
A: Obviously small size is crucial. We should definitely limit candidates to states under 5 million population, and possibly under 2 or 3 million. Here are some other criteria that either I've thought of or other people have suggested: 1) coastline or access to foreign border (to make sanctions a less dangerous possibility); 2) a decent job market; 3) a native culture that is already pro-liberty; 4) high per capita income (residents will be more open to secession-if that ends up being necessary-if they pay more taxes to the federal government); 5) high population density (combined with small population, that means small land area-it will be less painful to reject federal highway funds and the strings attached to them if we don't receive many federal highway funds to begin with).
Q: Why don't we just start killing government agents?
A: Racists and provocateurs are NOT welcome in the Society. Go away.
Q: How soon do you think this project will get underway?
A: My own vague estimate is that we might have 20,000 signers by 2006; giving people five years then to move to whatever state we decide on, that means that we should be ready to make a significant impact on state politics by 2011.
Q: I don't believe that we should abolish government with the push of a button. We need to build coalitions around issues at the national level. Your project distracts from that goal.
A: I never advocated abolishing government with the push of a button. Although I consider myself an "empirical anarchist" in the Lysander Spooner/A. John Simmons tradition, I want to build a broad coalition for this project. I would be happy to see a 90% reduction in government in my lifetime. For all the reasons laid out in my essay, it is impossible to expect this sort of change in the United States as a whole.