L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 247, November 16, 2003
You Couldn't Pay Me Enough
Free State Problems
Exclusive to TLE
I've been studiously avoiding the subject of the Free State Project. I do this not out of any kind of disdain for the project, but rather for practical reasons.
To briefly summarize, the Free State Project (FSP) intends to relocate 20,000 freedom-oriented individuals to a specific state in the Union. It is hoped that such a concentration of freedom-lovers in one place will have a profound effect on state politics. The intent, essentially, is to create an economic and social island of prosperity in the United States an example to other individuals and State Governments.
I've been acquainted with project founder Jason Sorens for some time not a close acquaintance, but enough to know that we're both fighting on the same side. I believe Jason's intent to be noble, and I have always wished the project the greatest success.
I have been unable to become personally involved in it, however for the practical reasons I alluded to above. In 1999, I relocated my family from socialist Chicagoland to my birthplace of South Dakota. I considered this a retreat in my personal struggle against tyranny: Chicagoland (like all of America's megalopoli) was long ago taken by the enemy. It is filled with Right- and Left-wing socialists so much so that I believe it impossible for re-take it in the foreseeable future. Indeed, it's quite possible that America's megalopoli are permanently lost to our enemies, the socialists.
Keep in mind that the only distinction I make between socialists who call themselves "Democrats" and those who call themselves "Republicans" is their personal philosophy:
Left-wing socialists believe that everyone is a little bit stupid and need government to control them for their own good.
Right-wing socialists believe that everyone is a little be evil and need government to control them for their own good.
Since both believe that individuals need government control for their own good, the end result of both Left- or Right-wing socialist policy is naturally identical.
In short, America's megalopoli are lost, and I moved my family to a state that had yet to be overrun and taken by the enemy. In this respect, I have a great deal of sympathy for the FSP's goals. However, having already relocated my family, practical concerns make it impossible for me to commit to relocating again, in support of the Free State Project. Since I could not make this commitment, I didn't feel it was appropriate to join the project, nor to make commentary about it.
Recently, however, an interesting truth of the difficulties in attempting to lead freedom-lovers has reared its ugly head in the FSP. Freedom-lovers are by nature self-reliant individualistic SOBs. They aren't like the rest of the sheep in the country who, when told where to go and how high to jump by their respective Left- or Right-wing tyrants, will kowtow to every demand.
If freedom-lovers don't like a decision made by the group or by those appointed to lead the group, the don't just go along for the sake of group unity: they loudly shout, "Screw you!" and stomp away to do what they like.
Mind you, I'm not criticizing this aspect of freedom-lovers: it's what sets us apart from socialists. Socialists wander from place to place all day long, blindly doing whatever they're told to do. Freedom-lovers don't.
However, what the FSP's leaders and membership didn't foresee was the rift that would be caused by making the selection of target state a matter of majority vote. The rift was, sadly, entirely predictable.
Here's the basic problem:
The United States covers a geographically enormous area. Much as the socialists in Washington would like to believe otherwise, there is not a single culture in the United States nor will there ever be. This fact is one of the many reason that a strong central government is inherently unstable: if a government is necessary at all, the largest it can be without engendering resentment on the part of the governed is over a single culture in a geographic area.
This is why a weak Federal Government and strong State Governments has historically worked so well in the United States. State Governments are typically the size of a sub-unit of an American culture or sub-culture.
Specifically, the United States has at least four separate cultures, each with its own value system and beliefs: the East Coast, the South, the Midwest/West and the West Coast.
These four cultures are separate, distinct and largely incompatible. They only share some basic assumptions of individual liberty and on the Coasts, even those values aren't always shared.
The reason that today's Federal Government is viewed with such hatred by the average individual isn't because it constantly violates the Constitution or the Zero Aggression Principle (these being matters left to a small minority of egg-heads like myself). Rather, most people hate the Federal Government because alternately attempts to force the values of the East and West Coast cultures on everyone.
The Free State Project ran into this problem head-first when its membership voted New Hampshire as the target state.
New Hampshire is one of the most freedom-leaning states on the East Coast, has an East Coast culture, and is surrounded by other, far more socialist states. As a South Dakotan, I was born and raised into the Midwest/Western culture. I have visited and felt at home in many Midwestern and Western states, feel reasonably comfortable in the South, but the East and West Coasts frankly drive me insane. I have never felt comfortable visiting these areas for any length of time.
You couldn't pay me enough to move there.
Rather predictably, neither could you pay enough for the Western contingent of the Free State Project to move into the East Coast culture. So, being freedom-lovers who feel bound to do what they want regardless of what the group wants to do, they rejected moving to New Hampshire. Instead, they are interested in Wyoming.
As I've said, I admire the FSP's goals (though I can envision how it has the potential to backfire see Israel after 1948). I'd never move to the East Coast, and I sympathize with Western FSPers in that regard. The East and West Coast cultures simply make me uncomfortable, and I know for certain I'd be unhappy living there. I'm also certain that Eastern FSPers would also find living in South Dakota uncomfortable. Neither of us is right or wrong, it's simply whatever culture we were raised in, and what we're comfortable with.
I do, however, have one comment on the situation:
From all accounts I've seen as an outsider, the FSP is operating well within the bounds of the Zero Aggression Principle: membership is entirely voluntary, individuals can withdraw at any time, and no one has initiated force in the process of operating the project.
If you voluntarily participate in a project that has a risk of voting to move somewhere that you won't like, you need to honestly evaluate this risk. If it's not acceptable, then the honorable thing to do is not participate in the project. It strikes me as extremely disingenuous to participate in the project with the full understanding that it might mean you will be moving to the middle of the East Coast only to get up and leave when that's exactly what happens.
Granted, since the entire project is voluntary, it's by no means an initiation of force to withdraw your support at any time. But this is what you signed up for. You knew the risks indeed, I considered that very risk myself when pondering whether to participate. Were I a single man with no attachments and consequent responsibilities, it's quite possible that the danger of moving out of my culture might have stopped me from participating.
In any case, I very much hope that the result of this rift is two viable projects, one in New Hampshire and the other in Wyoming. I hope that the withdrawal of members from the project doesn't cause irreparable harm. I would very much like to see it succeed and inspire individuals living in, say, South Dakota, to eject what little remains of its government meddling in an effort to be as successful as the Free State.
But if you're one of the people who signed up knowing that there was a danger that you'd have to move somewhere you didn't like and now you're withdrawing or splitting off, I have to say I'm disappointed in you. If you didn't like the risks, then the appropriate thing to do was not participate in the first place.