The elusive libertarian enclave
- Ivo Vegter
- 11 Dec 2012 02:26 (South Africa)
Whenever three or more libertarians get together – to paraphrase Leon Louw of the Free Market Foundation – you are sure to find three or more factions, which have contradictory views on important points of moral philosophy, politics or economics.
Each faction will likely also have a different proposal for the establishment of a libertarian enclave or “libertopia”, either by secession from existing nation-states, or by homesteading somewhere hitherto hostile to human life, like the sea or space.
I’ve heard many of them, and have written about a few, over the years.
I once interviewed Douglas Shaw for the print edition of Maverick magazine. He has spent years negotiating to establish a private or charter city in Africa, to be named Libertonia. It would be exempt from many national laws, and his own extensive study of urban planning and economic freedom would hold sway. He hoped the lure of trade and employment would tempt governments of poor countries to grant the requisite dispensations.
For Brainstorm magazine, I’ve written about the Principality of Sealand, an unrecognised, self-declared independent state located on Roughs Tower, an old World War II fort located on the edge of British territorial waters. It is most famous as a data haven, where individuals and companies, for good or ill, can locate data centres they would rather not subject to ordinary national laws.
A more serious attempt at establishing a libertarian enclave is known as the Free State Project, which hopes to encourage at least 20,000 liberty-minded individuals to move to the US state of New Hampshire, in the hope that one day they can form an electoral majority strong enough to establish a libertarian state.
Real-world examples have always been limited, in one way or another, but several free economic zones have produced great prosperity for its citizens. Intriguing experimental lessons can be drawn from places as different as Hong Kong, Dubai, Somalia, Chile, Switzerland and New Zealand.
It has always been somewhat of a puzzle why, when given a political quiz based on the Nolan chart, so many people turn out to be in favour of both economic and personal freedom from government intervention, yet libertarian politics routinely fares badly at the polls. Even in electoral systems that aren’t obviously designed to result in two centre-leaning parties, advocates of freedom from government intervention seldom do well, probably because they also oppose government largesse, for both individual welfare or corporate interests.
There is another reason, to my mind, why libertarians do badly on the broader political stage, however.
Since political labels are easily abused, misunderstood, or used as pejoratives, let us take a moment to describe what we mean by “libertarian”.
A libertarian is neither a “left-wing liberal”, nor “right-wing conservative”, agreeing on some points with both, and disagreeing on others with both. This is why a two-dimensional chart with social freedoms on one axis and economic freedoms on the other is a more instructive way to think about political convictions. Let us use the term “libertarian”, broadly speaking, to mean those who believe in individual freedom, in both the social and economic senses.
Another way to define “libertarian” is in terms of the “consent axiom”, as described by Trevor Watkins, the organiser of the recent 27th Libertarian Seminar in Grahamstown. It states that no action shall be taken that affects the life, liberty or property of another without their consent. (Disclosure: I was a speaker at the seminar in question.)
Yet another definition is based on the legal notion of subsidiarity, which says that no larger social grouping, be it a municipality, nation state or world government, is permitted to arrogate to itself powers that can be exercised by its smaller members, or were not duly delegated to it by those members. It finds expression in a libertarian manifesto written by Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, a member of Parliament for the Inkatha Freedom Party.
Among libertarians, discussions on points of law, philosophy, politics and economics are always fascinating and passionate, but in the vibrant discord it is evident that advocates of freedom are the least organised and organisable people on the planet. There are many reasons for this, and it isn’t only that they all have a soft spot for anarchy and an instinctive – even puerile – resistance to authority and conformity.
Some freedom advocates actively dislike associating with other freedom advocates, because they hold different philosophical views or moral convictions, which, though both would grant the other the right to hold, neither wants to share a room with.
Some of those convictions, in fact, are enough to prompt suspicion of the very cause of freedom itself. To my mind, they underlie the failure of libertarianism as a political movement. And this brings us back to the notion of an independent enclave which is so popular at these libertarian confabs.
In South Africa, a rare example of a libertarian enclave is Orania. Established by disenchanted Afrikaners who wanted to form a self-governing region rather than submit to what they saw as the tyranny of the majority, anyone is free to become a member of this community, provided they consider themselves to be of “Afrikaner ethnicity”.
This example is a problem, politically. It suggests that libertarians are all racist throwbacks to the Apartheid days. But this is not true. Whether Orania residents are racist or not is irrelevant to the character of libertarians in general.
By any of the definitions of libertarianism given above, such a self-governing community, no matter what its nature, is unproblematic. In fact, libertarianism explicitly does not impose beliefs from the top down, but accommodates a wide spectrum of individual views, provided they don’t materially impose on the rights of others.
In the case of Orania, nobody has to become a member of the community, and if someone does choose to do so, they freely enter into an agreement to abide by the community’s rules. There is nothing inherently antithetical to individual freedom about it. Orania recently demonstrated that it is not averse to external relations and trade, either, by signing a cooperation agreement with Mnyameni, a Xhosa community in the Eastern Cape.
Having said that, it remains true that the exclusivity of Orania – just like the entirely legitimate exclusivity of gated security complexes – rankles, given South Africa’s fraught history of racial segregation.
When the notion of a libertarian enclave inevitably came up in discussions at the abovementioned Libertarian Seminar, one of the group mentioned the so-called Republic of Hout Bay, and suggested that an ideal enclave might include surrounding neighbourhoods like Kommetjie, Noordhoek, Camps Bay and Constantia. Another suggested St Francis Bay, because it has a single access road that can easily be barred against incursion by an invasive state, or anyone else. The idea was that for practical reasons, it would be better to start with a wealthy community when forming a free enclave, Monaco-style.
Since the idea of a libertarian enclave is not only to create a community for like-minded individuals to “live free or die”, as the saying goes, but also to demonstrate to others that economic freedom is good for you, this proposal seemed laughable to me. What would it demonstrate? That rich white people can survive in a gated community without government intervention? Well, fancy that. Not only would such an enclave set a very low bar for success, and thereby demonstrate very little, but it would be politically offensive in the context of South Africa.
If a libertarian enclave is to be established, I’d prefer to see it start on the other end of the economic spectrum. Pick a region that is tired of waiting for so-called “service delivery”, is fed up with government corruption, and has had enough of poverty and despair. Say, the Eastern Cape. If libertarians want to prove that their ideas are good for everyone, that their policies can create prosperity no matter the circumstances, and that their principles can accommodate everyone even while tolerating isolationist, exclusionary communities such as Orania, I can’t think of a better place to start than the Eastern Cape.
The perception that libertarians speak for the rich only, and cannot truly represent the poor, is an age-old conundrum. Art Carden, writing for Forbes, eloquently addressed the issue last year in a response to a critique published at the delightfully named blog Bleeding Heart Libertarians of a previous article of Carden’s. These essays are required reading for anyone who is unsure whether it is true that libertarians don’t care about the poor and oppressed.
However, given that this perception is widespread, it would be counter-productive to propose, as a first attempt at creating an enclave of freedom, an area that is already rich and largely white. Sure, libertarians pride themselves on not being politically correct, but this isn’t so much a case of being politically wrong as being politically stupid.
As Carden notes, “libertarians offer proposals to infuriate everyone”, by attacking sacred cows of both the left (minimum wage laws, green subsidies, progressive taxes) and the right (anti-immigration policies, military spending, legislated family values). All these proposals are designed to help people work their way out of poverty and oppression and into prosperity and freedom, but all of them are hard to sell, politically.
If you’re convinced a libertarian enclave is the only way to demonstrate the transformative socio-economic power of free markets and free people, you’re entitled to your view. But when even your serious proposals are likely to encounter political resistance, it doesn’t do to give critics soft targets like entrenched privilege and prejudice to shoot at.
Personally, I prefer to rely on existing evidence in support of the benefits of economic and individual liberty, such as this survey, based on the Economic Freedom of the World index. Then, advocate policies that can benefit the entire country.
Sure, this can’t hope to achieve the philosophical purity of a libertarian utopia scratched out on a blank slate, but that is in any case mere intellectual navel-gazing, about which even committed libertarians can and do spend entire weekends disagreeing.
As Otto von Bismarck once said, “politics is the art of the possible”. It is valuable to indulge in idealistic thought experiments. It is instructive to take principled positions defending the undefendable (to borrow the title of Walter Block’s free PDF book). Politically, however, libertarians should advocate the possible, and be sensitive to the historical and social context in which they do so.
No doubt, many of the libertarians I know and love will disagree, and that is fine by me. DM
- Fearful Fukushima fiction fatigue
- Do we tolerate private sector corruption?
- In defence of a lion killer
- Save the rare wine and endangered craft beer
- Forever blowing bubbles: shale gas economics
- Promotion and Protection of Investment Bill: When “certainty” means “wait and see”
- This land is my land: a revolution
- The launch of SA's Libertarian Party: herding cats in time for 2014
- The African case against the ICC
- The fossil fuel subsidy myth
- Think of the little fishies!
- The hilariously misunderstood libertarian
- The sickly history of sweeteners
- Pants on fire, but they’re not mine
- The obstructionism of shale gas activists
- How mind-numbing numbers whip up fear
- Why pick on Khanyi Dhlomo?
- Half-measures will fail the rhino
- Malema’s righteous anger... and naïve confusion
- Lottery licence to go to one lucky winner
- Vaccinations: when the state stabs the people
- Do reusable shopping bags kill people?
- The long walk to serfdom
- The Karoo desperately needs development
- The trials of Samson Shuttleworth
- The girl who kicked the hornet’s nest
- Raping the discourse about rape
- Who is the reasonable man?
- Fracking: Debating a big deal
- Who needs the Queen’s English?
- Electric cars: Taking from the poor to give to the rich
- Business Licensing Bill: An indefensible defence
- Red-tape tourism
- The Big Business Bribery Bill
- On Thatcher and society, Vavi and the market
- Extinction: Let’s make up numbers and panic!
- Feeding the world is getting easier
- Stop talking shit: Build your own toilet
- Climate change is pseudo-science
- Anti-competitive competition law
- The Department of Less Government
- An open letter to President Zuma
- In defence of Kim Kardashian
- The world’s weirdest wildlife sanctuary
- Boycott calls are simple-minded
- In defence of vegans
- The population explosion implodes
- Environmental backpedalling picks up pace
- How Mangaung can help and hinder entrepreneurs
- The elusive libertarian enclave
- The Gathering: Ivo Vegter
- The hidden overemployment crisis
- The case for constructive environmentalism
- Privatise the Western Cape's shacks
- Tenders: Not open to employees or their families
- Hurricanes fuel climate sensationalism
- Next: Gross-out warnings on food
- No new deal: The failure of Zumanomics
- Benoni has a bright idea
- Was I wrong about acid rain?
- Public food gardens: Where dumb ideas thrive
- Rethinking the costly food label madness
- Give hunting a chance
- Fracking gets green light, but here's the risk
- Socialists, bless 'em, visit Cape Town
- Buy a 1Time ticket now
- Give the ANC credit where credit is due
- The myth of the competent apartheid government
- It's a disaster that 'peak oil' is not a disaster
- No Gravy: a label for sustainable business
- This lightbulb's going to blow
- Smokers? Get 'em up against the wall!
- Inflating the obesity scare
- Bring a Shotgun to School Day
- GMOs: Hacking genes to feed the world
- The hidden dangers of charity
- Fracking: the unread paper debated
- Fracking: The “U-turn” paper nobody has read
- Eco-cronyism is as dangerous as any other
- SKA: Be grateful Karoo residents didn't object
- Energy: Get cracking on fracking
- Fair trade, unfair trade-off
- Casual labour is only bad for Vavi's unions
- 'Externalities', the catch-all justification for regulation
- 'Externalities', the catch-all justification for regulation
- How do we fix our dismal education?
- Barter: the rebirth of sound money
- Rights are not entitlements
- Debunking 'limits to growth' inanities
- Tax: Why align with "most other countries"?
- Newspaper sensationalism doesn't help rhinos
- Rolling Stone reprises Gasland's fracking fantasies
- Cosatu's manipulative march move
- Why do 16 million people not constitute an economy?
- The age of smear politics
- Does fracking cause earthquakes?
- The Chinese model is morbidly obese
- Green tech: doubling down on a losing bet
- Rape, pornography, and hell's grannies
- Petrol taxes won't hurt the poor
- Jailtime mooted for bad weather warnings
- Let's ban bans, and start with CITES
- In defence of overpaid sport stars
- On the death of Kim Jong-Il
- COP17: Let's ban fire
- Cancer gets you when nothing else can
- COP17: The 'party on' agenda
- COP17: The Blue Line of Death
- New seven natural inanities
- Occupiers' anger is all that makes sense
- The Luddites and Technocrats live on
- Malema marches for economic slavery
- Profitable purveyors of pudendal prettiness
- Sense? Us?
- If they want rhino horn, let's sell them some
- "Stimulate" economy by ending telco abuses
- Executive pay makes nobody poorer
- Malema's real persecution
- Mogoeng: Lock up your daughters
- Don't mandate insurance, deregulate healthcare
- I sympathise with Malema's persecution complex
- Short selling: panicked pols ban proof of failure
- Don't blame those who saw it coming
- What's obscene about profit?
- In defence of Bombela
- Dear president Zuma, you are not above the law
- The economics of love
- Treasure the Karoo? Ban the SKA!
- Malema is right, you know
- Gautrain's PPP: political patronage profiteering
- Kumi Naidoo is no hero
- LeadSA fails to lead when it matters
- No logo means carte blanche
- The drug war: dopey but dangerous
- A response to fracking critics
- Don't vote. It's your right.
- Welcome Walmart
- If you're happy and you know it clap your hands
- Buy local, support poverty
- Ubuntu, the free-market way
- Karoo fracking scandal exposed!
- I'm ashamed for my profession
- The bill of bunkum
- Being gay: a brand new concept!
- Who's afraid of the nuclear wolf?
- The nationalisation canard
- Ogilvy should grow a spine
- The new robber barons
- A classy revolution: Why we cared
- Bombastic Bombela balks
- Liberty is more than mere democracy
- Gautrain has a law unto itself
- The irony of 'services for all'
- How to hire a hitman in SA
- Arrive alive and neurotic
- The oppression of taxis
- Protection of Information Bill and why WikiLeaks is so dangerous
- Fifa, Russia and Qatar deserve each other
- One day, we'll all hate WikiLeaks
- The cycling mafia strikes again
- What Julius got for Christmas
- Let's return the beads
- Away with fascist seat belt laws
- Tintin Mbeki in the Sudan
- How the ANC can make everyone happy
- Currency: the race to the bottom.
- Hurrah for national healthcare!
- Give Zimbabweans citizenship
- Carte Blanche has no carte blanche
- That finger-licking, lip-smacking taste
- Bomb the barbaric lot already
- Green tax: another raid is coming
- Do strikers deserve anything?
- The media will lose this battle
- Global warmism needs a fisking
- A glass half-full
- Go ahead, have a baby
- Stop the handouts - end xenophobia
- The right to fire
- FIFA's heart of darkness
- Have some self-respect
- I ordered an orange skirt
- Secretly, Match blames South Africa
- The stupendous Gautrain: a rare marvel!
- The Fifa conquistadors are coming!
- What's wrong with everyone?
- Leave poor BP alone
- The destructive power of government
- The bonsai economy
- The darkness of Africa
- Who is ripping off whom?
- Anatomy of a whitewash
- While FIFA takes over, we fight
- The pointless pretence of Earth Hour
- Ten reasons to reject climate alarmism
- Really, boycott the FIFA farce
- The climate dominoes fall
- Lessons in ethics from Dick Cheney
- Screw the consumer
- In defence of bankers
- Break the banking cartel
- Julius Malema, the walking contradiction
- Boycott FIFA
- Climate clarity
- In defence of Boney M
- Pray Copenhagen fails
- Capitalism is not unkind
- Climate fraud kills people
- Pop goes the hot air balloon
- Peace, love and schadenfreude
- The irony of the left
- Too late to cool it?
- Going cold turkey