Gulches

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Stewart Browne's recent, eloquent column here about the need to secede reminded me of the long-running debate among freedom-seekers about the best (or at least, the most feasible) way to establish a free society: (1) to attract libertarians to populate a small independent area, a marked-off Government-Free Zone (GFZ) of some kind in which statists would have no place, or (2) to set about convincing everyone in an existing country, with borders already widely respected, to convert to a rational belief in freedom and so make the whole country a GFZ.

The former is nowhere more delightfully described than in the "Atlantis" chapter of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged--as "Galt's Gulch." Anyone wearied by the absurdities of the modern state and its endless arrogance and intrusions can find no better place to relax than in a re-read of that chapter. It's a fertile valley set somewhere in the Rockies , surrounded by high peaks and accessible only by air, where live a collection of her favorite heroes, gentle people planning no aggression, but each tired of being exploited by the parasite sector. Each brings a set of talents, and exchanges products and services with everyone else so that needs and wants are peacefully met. Although surrounded by the world's great superpower and its snoops and stormtroopers, it's well protected because its existence is unknown; its resident, advanced scientists have created a kind of electronic "roof" so that even if a government spy plane should fly right overhead, the valley appears to it as a mountaintop wilderness. Handy, that; novelists can create vital protections with a mere stroke of the pen. Much mightier than the sword, and cheaper, too.

Other ideas for freedom colonies include populating the Moon or a distant planet, establishing a large and growing space station in orbit, launching one or more large "freedom ships" on the oceans, which would sail forever like Flying Dutchmen outside state territorial limits, and of purchasing a group of lightly-populated islands, if possible with an agreeable climate. I've also heard tell of a kind of floating city, or gigantic houseboat, moored safely offshore, which stays put in one place, all fully self-contained with tens of thousands of people. Then, of course, there is the idea of a territory within a government-infested zone, but from which it is in some way excluded; for example, a seceded former State, surrounded by a continuing US of A.

Each of these ideas is creative and might very possibly work, provided it is left alone by the nearby governments, all of them armed to the teeth and viciously hostile to the notion that their services are unwanted. That's a very, very large assumption - with which I am not at all comfortable. Ships (mobile or stationary) are shockingly vulnerable to government torpedoes, while there is a history of using tropical islands for H-bomb tests, and space stations can be zapped without terrestrial beings being any the wiser. But let's consider an earth-bound free zone - say, a successfully seceded former state. It's a big country, there are lots of possibilities, but the Free State Project happened to like New Hampshire, and so did I when I moved here from a nearby People's Republic in 1993 on account of its lower living costs, outstanding scenery, absence of sales or income taxes, and decentralized (hence, less ominous) government structure. Let's suppose that somehow, NH became entirely free, like Galt's Gulch; that the Feds let us go without waging another war against secession, and that all the politicians and bureaucrats in Concord voted themselves out of existence and got themselves honest jobs. What then?

We have a million and a quarter people, and some of them would be so horrified by having to own and operate their own lives that they would leave, while others elsewhere would hold the opposite view and take their places--so let's assume that the result was a wash, and we ended up consisting of 1.25 million liberty lovers. Delightful thought.

We already have a wide variety of skills. People work in agriculture and timber, fishing and flying, hi-tech and manufacturing, and so on. Much of the zone is hilly, but in the South there is countryside that, once cleared of forest, would be readily tillable--so I reckon we'd quickly become self-sufficient. Logs might be exchanged for potatoes in the early years, but it would work out and if tariffs were erected against us elsewhere, we'd get by. Why, we even have an ocean shore, and can build our own ships in Portsmouth , so could trade worldwide without crossing hostile soil. Our tourist industry meanwhile would flourish, for we have the best scenery East of Colorado, and who knows, the current unofficial State Motto ("Welcome to New Hampshire . Now Go Home") might be phased out, such would be our eagerness to encourage strangers and flatlanders to feast their eyes and spend their gold.

We'd fast become so extraordinarily productive, without any government nannies and taxes to steal our produce and use it to hinder our efforts to produce more, as to raise our standard of living to several times that of the rest of America--even though we'd lack the economies of scale that do count for something. Our wealth warehouses would be so clearly trustworthy that anyone elsewhere would use them for safe storage, and just as small enclaves in Europe like Switzerland , Liechtenstein , Luxembourg , Monaco and Andorra have achieved markedly higher standards of life than their surrounding big-government megastates, so the NHGFZ would prosper well.

That, I fear, is where the difficulties would arise--then if not sooner; for the rulers of the rest of America could not afford to do nothing. It would become increasingly obvious to all that freedom worked and statism didn't. Knowledge of our success would reach every home in America repeatedly and relentlessly, just as West German TV was no respecter of the Wall around the East; and eventually propaganda to counter it would break down in the avalanche of obvious truth and government would face the same fate as Erich Honecker. Rather than submit to that fate, sooner or later it would move against the NHGFZ with overwhelming force, and would have abundant means at its disposal. Those European enclaves survive now only because (a) their banks have compromised the former policy of strict secrecy so that if a big government pushes hard enough, it can winkle out the IDs of any account holders it wants; and (b) the enclaves are in any case ruled societies, whose rulers more or less conform to the requirements of the club of rulers, so are not anarchist zones at all. Albert of Monaco has resisted well, but even he has had to compromise to survive, and so far he has no Grimaldi heir, well-prepared to take his place. Finally they accept for safe storage the private, looted wealth of the world's most influential mega-thieves, former and present heads of state; so they are allowed to survive even though they serve honest millionaires as well.

But would an uncompromising government-free zone in NH, prospering so well as to pour ridicule on the propaganda ministries of all surrounding states, be for long allowed to survive? I cannot see it. Massive force would pour along the I-95 and I-93 from both directions, and across the Connecticut River, overcoming even the withering musket barrage from the fort at Charlestown, and totally extinguish this flame of freedom, before its fire could spread. In reality, I fear that for that very reason we would not be allowed to secede in the first place; that the above assumption "that the Feds let us go without waging war" is simply not credible. It's a marvelous dream, but unfortunately it's only a dream.

More realistic by far is alternative (2) above, in which everyone in an existing society has his or her mind changed. I've written before about how that might be accomplished, and some of the details can be found here.

Now, if this were done within a relatively small country, it would be no more secure than the vulnerable NHGFZ discussed above. However, there are two reasons why that wouldn't happen to a complete America, newly-free: (a) we aren't surrounded by governments with massive armies and (b) the process of making 300 million Americans free would have lasted several years and would have attracted so much interest among Canadians and Mexicans that those governments would in any case be trembling in their jackboots lest a similar domestic change should end their respective existences. The whole nation is therefore well favored to become the first GFZ in history.

There's another factor bearing on this debate, and it derives from the inescapable fact that for the success of a free society of any size, everyone in membership must understand what freedom means, and therefore desire it. A few force-wielders could be handled by its free-market justice system, but not many. Therefore, massive re-education is required for both options, that's a given. Now, if it's also accepted that massive re-education can only be done by one-on-one personal introduction with exponential growth (and I can see no other possibility), it follows we must observe the arithmetic result of that process. By a quirk of its math, starting with just one freedom-educator and doubling the number every year, it takes 20 years to prepare 1.25 million for a vulnerable enclave like New Hampshire , or 28 years to extend the re-education to the whole of America. So why, I ask, settle for a result most unlikely to survive, when by being patient for a further eight years only, one can secure the entire country and, as a probable consequence of that, shortly afterwards the entire world?

It's a no-brainer, even though the process is already under way so that counting from now, arithmetically a "gulch" like NH might be re-educated in a further 11 years, against 19 for the whole of the country. The trouble with the former is not just the high probability of its being exterminated at birth or before, but also that as friend passes the word on to friend, it will not actually be possible (any more than I think it desirable) to contain the spreading re-education to any one enclave; because unlike earlier generations, our friends are spread across a wide geographic area.

All these are good reasons for not ruining matters for the sake of a possible quick fix. We have the serious opportunity in our hands right now of terminating the era of government absolutely, and so of removing from the human race the threat of ever more brutal tyranny ending only with WMD annihilation--while opening up vistas of peaceful prosperity and technological progress which even a realist like myself cannot find words to describe.

Don't let's blow it.

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Jim Davies's picture
Columns on STR: 243

Jim Davies is a retired businessman in New Hampshire who led the development of an on-line school of liberty in 2006, and who wrote A Vision of Liberty" , "Transition to Liberty" and, in 2010, "Denial of Liberty" and "To FREEDOM from Fascism, America!" He started The Zero Government Blog in the same year.
In 2012 Jim launched http://TinyURL.com/QuitGov , to help lead government workers to an honest life.
In 2013 he wrote his fifth book, a concise and rational introduction to the Christian religion called "Which Church (if any)?"