From the June 2003 Idaho Observer:
Montana Libertarians host Free State Project conference in Missoula
by Richard Rieben
The Free State Project's Grand Western Conference over this past Memorial Day weekend in Missoula, Montana, provided a series of astounding crystallizations in advancing political liberty.
But rather than a sudden shift or one clear message, it came through a series of subtle clarifications. The possibility of actually applying libertarian ideals in a free state, seemed to bring the speakers and participants to a more cogent view of what liberty would actually mean.
There was still the occasional flighty notion, but these were few.
In July 2001, I published Handbook for Liberty. Within a few months, two related, but independent, events occurred. Sobering events, which gave greater focus and immediacy to the drive for liberty. One was 9/11. The other was the idea of a youngish Yale graduate student to use the Internet as a tool for gathering liberty lovers in a practical effort to turn the tide.
Jason Sorens, 26, who received his doctorate May 26 of this year, envisioned a plan in late 2001 to move at least 20,000 liberty-minded folks to a single state, therewith affecting the political climate of that region.
Sorens put his idea into action, on the Internet. So far, the Free State Project has gathered over 3,700 members committed to moving to a single state. When the number reaches 5,000, a vote will be taken to select the state (from a short list of 10 likely candidates). Once that is decided, the migration will begin.
Sorens' plan is not contingent upon specific political actions or ideals -- freedom-minded or liberty-oriented is sufficient qualification for membership. The project is discussed in greater detail at its website: www.freestateproject.org.
In Handbook for Liberty, I streamlined my philosophical works into a guide for the practical application of liberty. I suggested that the Internet could be an excellent tool for such an application, but the guide was not dependent upon any particular plan.
In the Coda to Handbook, I wrote: The principles of liberty are natural principles. They do not depend upon a particular technology, but upon our ability to grasp what they are and what is needed to fulfill them. I am confident this Handbook will prove a ready reference for understanding and pursuing liberty regardless of the paths we take to get there.
But once a path is chosen by a group of individuals, the recognition of what's really essential to the undertaking comes to the foreground.
The speakers at the conference were of stellar quality in the libertarian field: Claire Wolfe, J.J. Johnson, Nancy Lord Johnson, Vin Suprynowicz, and Jason Sorens, himself. Their message was understand this process; it's not the same-old party-politics type thing; it is larger, broader and deeper. It is also, notably, slower.
Some of the speakers and other presenters still indulged in some storytelling (from The Horror File), but out of habit, it seemed -- this is the usual sort of thing at a Libertarian conference. One had a feeling that the focus on our loss of freedoms was mistargeted to this audience of 100-odd freedom-moving people -- and the speakers and the audience both sensed it.
The audience seemed, if not indifferent to, then unconcerned by the tales of injustices in a regulatory state out of control. They were not much interested in negative assessments of our present condition. Perhaps they were simply beyond that. They seemed more aware of themselves as a growing community, and of their present and future needs, as such.
The commonality of this community was defined by the priority they gave to recognizing the boundaries (rights) of individuals above all other concerns.
Co-author of The State Vs. the People: The Rise of the Police State and solo author of I Am Not a Number, Claire Wolfe's topic was identifying a culture of freedom. Not just literature, art and music, but the culture of assumptions and presumptions that people make about their social context. She spoke of the need to change culture -- to impact the way people think about government and their responsibilities for themselves and others.
Don Harkins of The Idaho Observer added a comment to Wolfe's presentation in the form of a sage quotation: Love people enough to leave them alone.
It is about love and community, but, moreover, it is a recognition that people are at their best (and community is at its best) when individual boundaries are respected. Wolfe noted that, in conventional, statist culture, people presume they must restrict others from doing harmful things, whereas in a culture of freedom, harmful actions (violations) are penalized, but people are presumed to have no inclination to do harm (presumption of innocence). Further, that it is the natural inclination of people to do good, and that this does not need to be hurried along with a stick: A civilized society always takes care of the poor and the old and the sick; and it doesn't take government to do that, she said.
Wolfe also noted the importance of a shared purpose, without compromising the application based upon our conventional cultural assumptions that the government must do certain things and take care of us.
Indeed, what we share, and perhaps our only commonality in a social or political group, is our respect for the rights of one another as individuals. As I wrote in Handbook, What you would have in common is the universal human base of liberty; all else is diversity. And what this conference demonstrated, was that this base is sufficient for a very strong sense of community, composed of people who otherwise have very little in common -- in their interests, beliefs and values.
With this single base, uncompromised by foggy thinking, a networked, supportive, enabling, helpful, friendly and respectful community develops that is deeper and has more goodwill than any other group organization I have ever seen or experienced before -- including my 10 years of living in the third world, where the sense of community is very strong (but also very restrictive).
This common base of mutual respect of rights and boundaries gives rise to a sense of community that is very supportive, but the nature of that support is not as conventionally understood. This is not an in-your-face, gonna-make-you-a-better-person, do-it-for-you, rescue-you social force. The goodwill -- and feeling of buoyancy -- derives from being both valued (as a human being) and respected (being left alone). It is a subtle backdrop -- not a safety net, but an integrity net. One feels respected as a human being; and one feels clean interacting with others on a natural base of mutual respect. On the basis of this alone, goodwill rears its impish face.
Las Vegas Tribune editorial page editor and author of the novels Send in the Waco Killers and The Ballad of Carl Drega Vin Suprynowicz, a Libertarian, addressed the sense of embattled community by examining the origins of the term to close ranks. Essentially this is a military term of arranging battleground forces to protectively shield themselves, including their wounded and other vulnerable assets. The only danger, then, exists through being stabbed in the back by one of your own, violating the integrity of the shield. This analogy stresses the fragility of community -- even one that is otherwise strong and vibrant, being based on a respect of individual rights and boundaries.
To this danger, Suprynowicz gave advice on two parallel courses of action: Don't compromise; bury nuts; survive (the present system). And: Find each other; support each other; build a Freedom Tree -- network.
Sierra Times Editor J.J. Johnson made the point that a free state will be a rebellious state, perhaps it could also be added, from the perspective of the bureaucrats, a rogue state. Johnson stressed that the pursuit of liberty is not an easy endeavor. Things will not automatically or easily -- or somehow -- become better. If anything, in the immediate future, things will be tougher for people who value freedom. Confronting the antagonism, handling it, surmounting it, and surviving it will entail personal hardships and inner conflicts (between our programmed cultural presumptions of society-government and our belief in a hands-off government/culture of liberty).
Johnson also pointed out that we are already in the midst of World War III. And things will be tougher for everyone soon enough. Standing for freedom is not the easy choice, nor the expedient choice, but it is the only choice that has the potential for a clear road down the trail.
Attorney Nancy Lord Johnson stressed the importance of staying out of jail -- of not needlessly baiting the tyrant, or trying to make a point or win justice under constitutional guarantees, against a bureaucratic system that does not value the Constitution or honor its guarantees (or possess much honor of any sort). When you do, inadvertently, run up against the tyrant, pay the fine, apologize -- and walk away to fight another day (in battles that count).
Dr. Jason Sorens is neither a powerful speaker nor a powerful, charismatic presence. He is one of the nicest, most decent, good-hearted guys I've ever come across. Sincere, reserved, friendly and intelligent. Just your average, regular good-guy, not a leader, hero, or guru. Well, I like him, anyway. Hard not to.
He spoke, not modestly but realistically, of the Free State Project as this little idea -- which it is. Simple and obvious, but for the present context a little idea that is functional, act-on-able, practical.
Sorens stressed that Free-Staters (or Porcupines) hold many different personal values, but hold-fast to the core value of freedom. Without freedom, all our other values are meaningless, he noted.
He commented on the need for a gradualist approach, with the importance of intermediate stages in the process of moving toward greater freedom. And the importance of not neglecting these stages, nor of assuming that momentum is going to carry us to success. He noted, based upon his doctoral research on secession movements, that it generally takes about 20 years for a grassroots movement to come to fruition. This observation underscores both Mr. Suprynowicz' advice: Don't compromise; bury nuts; survive (the present system), and Mrs. Johnson's advice: stay out of jail; don't bait the system; choose your battles and retain your options.
Dr. Sorens also reinforced Mr. Johnson's commentary that things would not be easy or better in the short term, referring to freedom fighters generally as glass-eaters -- willing to eat glass for freedom; that the quality of life is not so important.
Dr. Sorens noted that we need to reinforce our pre-existing freedoms, and to emphasize the principles of freedom. He believes that the U.S. Constitution is resilient and is compatible with a libertarian community.
The Free State Project, at first glance, is a simple little idea with limited potential. What empowers it is the sensibility of the people guiding it and participating in it. One would not necessarily get this impression from the Free State website, nor, less, from the website's forum (not to discount the value and importance of that forum in any way).
The conference in Missoula was a demonstration of the caliber of people involved -- in the bringing together of many pigeon-holed, niched categories of liberty-minded thinkers and activists in a sober, focused, commitment to do something -- and, I think, to do it now. The power of the little idea lies in its appeal to diverse interests, beliefs and values, and in its ability to focus on our single commonality (liberty) in a practical application.
Liberty, today, thanks to a little idea and a bright, capable lad, has a purchase on becoming a reality. If the focus can be maintained, perhaps we will achieve political liberty for the first time ever on this planet. If not, perhaps we will muddle along, as the United States has done for two hundred years, with a mixed-system of some sort.
My instincts, however (and various ancient prophesies), suggest that we are presently living in Armageddon -- and there will be 1000 years peace following that. There is no other socio-political road that will or can lead to long-term peace and prosperity (in human measure) other than the establishment of a base of political liberty.
I believe we are on the road to that future right now -- out of Armageddon -- and that the Free State Project is paving the way.
Freedom begins in the home
by Don Harkins
Our entire nation, from sea to shining sea, is dotted with people who feel like aliens in the land of their birth. We show our friends and family how they are being taxed and regulated into slavery; how our people are being maimed, killed and betrayed by government at every turn -- only to be viewed as crazy, or worse, a threat to national security. Many of us have become so scarred by the battles -- with family, with friends, with government agencies, with the court system and police -- that we view the only hope for our country is for a total collapse. But what if it never happens? What if this totalitarian, boil-the-frog-slowly nonsense continues forever?
It is more intelligent to prepare for a future as if we have one, than to carry our hopeless baggage around with us like some perverse badge of rebelliousness.
Until the Free State Project came along, there was no plan to change our world for the better except to hope that the death and misery of social collapse would somehow allow freedom to be reborn. It took the optimism of a young man named Jason Sorens to state the obvious: If you rebuild it they will come.
So, the scattered remnant must stop telling people how horrible slavery is and prove how marvelous freedom can be. To accomplish this task, they must move into an area and apply their freedom principles to the real world and lead the nation back to freedom -- by example.
The remnant's mission is to rebuild our nation and reteach our countrymen what it's like to be free. Freedom will take root in our homes and in our communities and, even in the rockiest of soil, if it's viable, will spread like morning glories.