Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
THE SEASTEADING INSTITUTE was the toast of tech entrepreneurs when it received financial backing from venture capitalist Peter Thiel in 2008. Its mission was to build a manmade island nation where inventors could work free of heavy-handed government interference. One early rendering shows an island raised on concrete stilts in eerily calm waters. The buildings atop the platform resemble nothing so much as the swanky tech campus of an entrepreneur’s ultimate dream: No sign of land or civilization in sight. The island, despite appearing strapped for square footage, has room for a full-size swimming pool with deck lounges.
It’s an enticing idea though hardly an uplifting one, a pricer version of the escapist Free State Project. Yet the underlying rationale behind those fleeing to New Hampshire, or trying to establish civilization in the middle of the ocean is the same: We’ve lost the battle for freedom at home.
This defeatist mentality is common among refugees. It is also understandable among those whose countries have fallen into dictatorship and civil strife. America is neither a dictatorship nor on the verge of a second civil war. Adam Smith observed that there is a great deal of ruin in a nation. It will take more than eight years of Barack Obama to fell the most powerful nation on earth.
There’s a strange irony with projects like Seasteading and the Free Staters. The type of people naturally attracted to these movements are hardly weak willed or easily deterred. A list of advocates for setting up some small piece of libertarian paradise reads like a Who’s Who of Silicon Valley. Men and women who feel confident enough to creatively destroy entire industries but, somehow, feel incapable of winning a political argument against those often less intelligent and accomplished than themselves. There is more than a whiff of nerds being intimidated by the cool kids.
The dream of running away and creating a perfect society, or at least a better one, is hardly new. It must have been in the minds those early colonists who spread across the Mediterranean in the wake of the Greek Dark Age. It was, of course, the impetus for British settlers to establish their colonies in North America and the Antipodes. There are times when the only sensible thing to do is leave.
The cost, however, is enormous. Creating a new society, even while carrying the best of Western Civilization, is a dangerous and incredibly complex undertaking. It took the thirteen American colonies more than a century and half to reach anything like a critical economic and political mass. This is the basic flaw in Seasteading, even leaving aside the enormous cost of building the infrastructure. Societies are not computer software, they cannot be programmed or adjusted at will. They must evolve organically over time if they are to survive. This is why many Seasteading proposals come off as pitches for high-end hotels and conference centers. The social element is missing.
The Free State Project, which proposes to encourage 20,000 liberty minded people to move to New Hampshire, has the merit of being more immediately practical than Seasteading. However it still runs up against the problem of trying to re-create a society. While the good people of New Hampshire are known for their ornery libertarianism, the economy beyond the narrow strip bordering Massachusetts is slim pickings. Even 100,000 libertarians are unlikely to swing the politics of the state all that much, assuming the new arrivals could get jobs or start businesses.
Leaving aside the impracticality of either approach it’s the hopeless attitude I dislike most. We can’t change things here so let’s go somewhere else. There is a moment for that. This isn’t that moment. As the son of immigrants I understand the urge, believe me I do, but a time and a place for everything.
One of the great values of studying history is that it gives the attentive student’s perspective a longue durée. The challenges that face modern America are formidable, they are however no more formidable that those that faced the Founding Fathers, the Abolitionists, the settlers of the West or those who fought World War Two and built the post-war economy. It’s been much, much worse and we have far less right to complain than we often suppose.
Take a step back. This isn’t the time to run. That time may come. It ain’t here yet. There is plenty of chance to stand and fight.