“A decade ago, libertarian activists… hatched a crazy plan to take over New Hampshire… It’s kind of working.”

That’s from the lede of a new story in Mother Jones about the Free State Project, entitled “City on a Quill.” Mother Jones is definitely coming from the left, but the story is meritoriously free of those lazy, paranoid arguments ad Kochum that we’ve seen about Free Staters from The Nation (no, I’m not going to provide a link, they don’t deserve it). The Mother Jones story doesn’t appear to be online yet. With just a touch of ironic deprecation, the story elaborates accurately the main factional divide among libertarian activists in New Hampshire, between civil-disobedience activists mainly living in Keene and political activists spread throughout the state:

In recent years, Keene residents have been cited for violating the city’s open-container law (during a city council meeting), for indecent exposure and firearms possession (simultaneously), and for smoking marijuana (inside a police station). These incidents share a common root: They were orchestrated by members of the Free State Project–a plan, hatched in 2001, to get 20,000 libertarian activists to quit their jobs, sell their homes, and relocate to New Hampshire en masse.

The reporter also interviewed Free Staters who’d been elected to the legislature:

Dan and Carol McGuire relocated to New Hampshire from Washington state in 2005… Political novices, they both won seats in the House of Representatives (Carol in 2008, Dan in 2010).

They’ve taken different approaches to fighting tyranny. Carol’s goal for the 2011 session was culling anachronistic laws that have remained on the books through bureaucratic neglect. She succeeded in axing an 1895 statute, the result of lobbying by Big Butter, that requires margarine to be served in triangular containers so that diners don’t confuse it with the real thing. Dan had his sights on something of potentially much greater consequence. He and a few allies succeeded in passing a bill to eliminate the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority, which is planning a high-speed line to Massachusetts. Their argument was simple: Government shouldn’t be in the business of building railroads. The state’s Democratic governor, John Lynch, vetoed the bill.

After summing up the disagreements among Free Staters on strategy and end goals (no government versus limited government), reporter Tim Murphy concludes: “And therein lies the problem with attempting to create a libertarian utopia: No one–least of all libertarians–can agree on what it looks like.” You might say that’s a problem for any effort to create a utopia.

11 thoughts on ““A decade ago, libertarian activists… hatched a crazy plan to take over New Hampshire… It’s kind of working.”

  1. I admire and salute you for your key role in the project. Thank you Prof. Sorens.

    I have to grit my teeth when the media starts off with the usual “well they can’t create utopia, ergo their ideas must be all wrong and we can laughingly disregard them.”

    You never hear the media do the same off-hand disregard of, say, Obama’s healthcare reforms. “Obama’s healthcare act does not create utopia, ergo everything about it is silly and wrong”. Or neo-con foreign policy, “The invasion of Iraq, didn’t create utopia, ergo it was all wrong.”(actually, you do hear that occasionally) No, the media gives such plainly wrongheaded and harmful policies a much more nuanced and fair vetting.

    Why does reporting on libertarian causes always start off from the vantage point that utopia is the goal, when the question ought to be, “will their proposal be marginally better than the alternative”, or “will their proposal be less harmful than the status quo.”

  2. Thanks, Jardinero. I agree – the goal of the FSP, to my mind, isn’t utopia. The slogan, “Liberty in Our Lifetime,” is meant to be inspiring and aspirational, but the Project is really about a method of approaching the relationship between government and the individual.

  3. The fact that like-minded people can accomplish more when they work together just seems realistic to me. Gathering them together in one state is part of a practical strategy that is working pretty well. Most people who have moved there, despite their differences, seem pretty excited. Have any polls been done of the movers about their quality of life? That would be interesting. It doesn’t have to be a utopia or even a “united” movement for most people in it to be reporting better quality of life and happiness with their part in the project.

  4. It’s not accurate to state that those plans were hatched by members of the Free State Project. Certainly not all of them they ascribe.

    Much of the “activism” in Keene is done by people who fall into these groups: locals, people who moved to NH because of FK and friends, and people who are FSP early movers. But I’ve gotta say, among that group, there seems to be a whole lot of people who do NOT want to be identified with the Free State Project: not anarchic enough.

  5. True – the term “Porc” has come to encompass FSPers and the sympathetic local people into whom they’re assimilating. That would have been a better term, if informal.

  6. I find this quote interesting:

    reporter Tim Murphy concludes: “And therein lies the problem with attempting to create a libertarian utopia: No one–least of all libertarians–can agree on what it looks like.”

    I think a disagreement on what the end-goal is, will itself shape the end-goal. If, as the state grows smaller, more and more libertarians will be appeased, then will the movement run out of momentum before abolishing the state, leaving the seed for its future return?

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