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May 23, 2008

Looking Backward: The Future Of Libertarian Ideas

by Doug Mataconis

James Pinkerton looks at the future of libertarian ideas by pondering where we might be in 2058:

First, true freedom—camouflaged from all-seeing eyes in the sky, hidden even from the all-penetrating Google Grid—can flourish only in a few small and isolated places around the globe, where self-selected populations can gather together as ex-pats and exiles, to live free or die. These places have been mostly small islands, protected by nuclear booby traps, although a few have existed on the poles, or under the sea, or deep underground. Poignantly, one such place was called “Galt’s Gulch,” named after the place where the capitalist strikers hid out in Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. But this time, the strikers were real enough—until, of course, they met their tragic end at the hands of bounty-hunting looters.

So the second lesson: No permanent victories for freedom can be found in this finite physical earth. Hobbes was right: The nation-state—sometimes, the imperial state—is the most effective monopolizer of force, thus the inevitable master of territory.

The third lesson: The true frontier of freedom will have to be elsewhere, not in this physical world as we commonly think of it. Many freedom-seekers have experimented with virtual reality as an escape hatch, or various kinds of nanotechnology. We wish those dematerialized libertarian voyagers well—but, frankly, we don’t know what has happened to them.

The fourth lesson is the keeper: A free world is a new world, the farther away, the better. The next significant victory for freedom—a return to Randianism—will be best realized via transportation to somewhere else, off this earth. Flight beats fight, especially when the freedom-fighter is guaranteed to lose to the statists in the end. The Europeans who came to America found liberty in the empty spaces of the New World; the same was true in Australia. It’s no accident that North America and Australia have traditionally been among the freest countries in the world. And if they are now less free, in the middle of this grim 21st century, that’s because they are increasingly filled up. They have regressed to the regimented condition of the rest of the planet.

Is Pinkerton right ? Is the future of liberty so bleak that we’ll have to hope for the interplanetary space travel of Robert Heinlein, or the alternate realities of Harry Turtledove and S.M. Stirling as the only true hope for creating a free society ?

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3 Comments

  1. Sometimes I think that freedom and the frontier go hand in hand. There’s very little frontier left. Maybe up in Alaska, Canada, or Siberia somewhere, where population density is low enough that you’ll pretty much be left alone, it can still be considered a frontier. And in a lot of those places, there is still JUST enough connection to the outside world that it’s a good approximation of true freedom.

    But I see his point:

    And if they are now less free, in the middle of this grim 21st century, that’s because they are increasingly filled up.

    As Heinlein (well, Lazarus Long) said:

    When a society has grown to the point where it requires people to carry identification, it is time to move out.

    So I understand what he’s saying here, and really I’m not disagreeing with it. The pioneers are those who truly wish to be free, and when they let the rest of humanity catch up, it’s time to move on.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — May 23, 2008 @ 8:13 am
  2. American and Australia were not empty, and of course the peoples who lived in a more true free form were not left to benefit from their freedom.

    In order for the society that could live totally according to libertarian principles is more dependent on technology than actually going out into space. It is not pioneering spirit that would make man more willing to live free, but the solutions to those pesky little moral problems, which sometime technology provides.

    Comment by VRB — May 23, 2008 @ 9:12 am
  3. Doug, you can check out my reaction to Pinkerton’s comments at the Art of the Possible Blog: http://www.theartofthepossible.net/2008/05/24/space-not-the-final-frontier-of-freedom/

    I may be just as cynical about Pinkerton’s long term forecast for freedom, but I believe that space colonization is either going to not happen at all, or happen in ways that mean the option will have to be independence from an Earth state. I’m happy that Pinkerton seems to be conceding that private space colonization isn’t going to happen.

    Comment by FreeDem — May 24, 2008 @ 12:26 pm

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