My mind is really swimming after reading the second article in Issue 10 which is on the topic of utopian communities. In this article, Wendy McElroy points out that there was quite a bit of experimentation with the creation and development of utopian communities in the nineteenth century, although very few were libertarian in nature. Wendy analyzes these communities from various standpoints and ponders the reasons for failure and success.
As I read this piece, I thought about the Free State Project (FSP). Like the people who formed communities in the nineteenth century, it certainly makes sense that people who ascribe to certain philosophies do not just want to do it in the abstract; they also want the chance to actually live in a place that values the philosophy.
I have always been fairly neutral about the project. I have not seriously considered moving there but that’s partly because I came to all of these realizations a bit later in life, after I was already very settled where I am. But I can certainly see it appealing to those who come to understand the ideas of liberty for those who are younger or less settled. I don’t know if such an idea can work but this project may be the best experiment we have going right now in order to find out.
One thing that’s always bothered me about these communities is that it seems to validate the “love it or leave it” argument and the whole idea of territorial sovereignty. Even if you set up a community that is based on individual private property, doesn’t the community at large still need to have some control over a certain bordered area in order to protect against those who don’t hold similar views?
Isn’t that what’s happening right now with the FSP, that the libertarians moving in do not necessarily hold the same philosophies as some who already live in New Hampshire? Isn’t it possible that some NH residents feel like they are being “invaded?” Wouldn’t the same thing happen if a libertarian community if people of a different mindset moved into their area?
Part of the reason communities like these are formed is because these people are in the minority of the population around them. So they need to isolate themselves if they want to live by different guidelines. That may be impossible to do today. As Wendy says,
Until it is possible to construct a society in space, perhaps it will be impossible to achieve what many Utopian planners considered a prerequisite for success — namely, isolation. Isolation is necessary because those who set up a radically different society are always in the minority. If they were in the majority, they could simply stay and change the society around them. We live in a society that worships the state as a creator (of money, of jobs, of education, of civilized man). Anarchists who deny its authority are in a position similar to atheists who deny God. This is dangerous, for society may laugh at eccentrics, but it executes heretics.
Sometimes it just feels like Zach Mayo in An Officer and a Gentleman.
This may mean that even the FSP is doomed and yet, when I read Wendy’s comments about atheists, I can see that even in the span of the 26 years since she wrote this, that the ideas of atheism have grown tremendously. It’s a major part of today’s religious discussions and more and more people are becoming unafraid to speak up about it.
I don’t know exactly what I would pin that on, but it could be due to technology which has exposed more people to the ideas and has also connected people so that they don’t feel so isolated, which ironically is the opposite of what we’re saying about setting up these communities.
But then again, atheism can easily exist in a statist society.
I don’t know. Does the idea of setting up libertarian communities just fall into that category where one will be successful when the world is ready, which means that the community as an isolated entity won’t be necessary?
The idea of private property does seem to be the most important aspect of either developing one of the communities or having society as a whole naturally move to the ideas of these communities. But then that gets me thinking about all the sticky conundrums concerning property ownership as it relates specifically to land.
There is no perfect society because there is no perfect human so I guess the best most of us can do is try to live our values the best we can wherever we may be in the world.
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