Political Choice: The Theme of the Day

[Thank you to the Free State Project for commissioning this piece. If you haven’t been, the FSP’s Liberty Forum is a spectacular event, March 5-8, 2014]

If you have no choice over the particulars of the regime under which you are forced to live, if there is near-zero chance that your own aspirations and views can be reflected in the shape of the laws and regulations that rule your life and choices, you are not politically free.

This lesson comes from Ludwig von Mises’s 1919 book Nation, State, and Economy. As he pointed out, political freedom was the driving reformist impulse from the Enlightenment forward. It was supposed to be the answer to the despotism of ages past when the ruler was god and his subjects were slaves. The idea of political freedom was radical: government could only rule by the consent of the ruled.

Do an assessment right where you are: are you politically free? In most Western democracies, the answer is no. The window for true political freedom came about at the close of World War I — and, in penetrating irony, this was the beginning of an age of universal democracy.

But democracy or not, no state gives up a modicum of power unless the people resist that power in some in some form.

This is why it is so thrilling that people have begun to take their own freedoms into their own hands. This move toward self determination can take many forms.

We’ve seen many rounds of passionate political protest in the last ten years. There are have been anti-war movements, anti-Fed movements, anti-bailout movements, anti-abuse movements, anti-tax movements, and so much more.

They are all the same movement in this sense: they are all seeking political freedom, that is, some say over the structure of the laws that rule us. But the structures of the state remain implacable in the face of all of them. All changes are cosmetic.

Still, the protests grow and expand. The people are trying every means possible to unlock the cage. Indeed, this is the theme of our time. The state is racking up its victims, and they come from all classes, races, religions. Meanwhile, in every way large and small, people are struggling to get away from the system they cannot control.

But don’t we have elections? Yes, and every new generation can be counted on to be tricked by them at least once. But the smart set eventually realizes critical facts: we are voting on people, not laws, and politicians do whatever they want once elected; the choices we are presented are ridiculously truncated; the politicians themselves are the veneer but not the state itself. We are not politically free.

Once you realize that democracy as we know it is not doing it for us, we have a choice: act or surrender. Surrendering means to submit to the notion that you do not deserve freedom, that your rights do not need to be recognized, that liberty cannot be realized in your lifetime so you might as well just give in. The problem with that approach is obvious but, most egregiously, it means that you let the bad guys win. Permanently.

The digital age — the greatest experiment in self determination ever conducted — has created its own set of non-state laws that have emerged from voluntary associations. Every commercial website with which we interact, and especially those that enable peer-to-peer interaction, depend on freely chosen forms of regulation. These different sets of laws are powered by reputation, crowd-sourced knowledge, terms of use, and spontaneous organization. They don’t use tear gas and rubber bullets to control the crowds; crowd control draws on human intelligence and the desire of people to form mutually beneficial relationships.

Expatriation is another example. We are seeing record numbers of Americans leaving the country and casting off their citizenship like a bad romance. It’s come down to a strange reality, after two hundred years in which everyone wanted to come to America, that some of the best and brightest can’t wait to discard the identity card.

Another major way to win greater freedom is to move within the nation from places that are economically unfree to those that are freer. This sums up many demographic trends over the last several decades. This is why the new car manufacturing plants are in the deep South rather than Detroit, why many of the strongest Internet retailers are located in Utah rather than California, why Texas has immigration and New York as emigration.

But freedom is not just about economics. It is also about civil liberties: the right to own and carry guns, to smoke weed, to speak and publish, to choose a romantic partner, and so on. That comprehensive understanding of what it means to be free is summed up in the political outlook called libertarianism. Once you adopt this outlook, you are prepared to act to regain political freedom as a means to obtain greater freedom in every area of life.

Where can we move within the nation state to experience the greatest amount of freedom? New Hampshire is a strong candidate here. The tradition of individualism is here, as are the low taxes and liberal laws on personal freedom. But what’s really impressive is how the best of the New Hampshire political culture is being encouraged by the ambitious movement to migrate.

Until the Free State Project — encouraging people who long for freedom to move to New Hampshire — libertarianism had no serious plan of action other than to continue to play the standard political game on a national level. The FSP changed that. Here is something you can do to experience freedom in our lifetimes.

The program began as a strategic means of influencing a state legislature, and to this extent, it is a success. But as the project has matured, we’ve seen how it has yielded other benefits. There is a point to being part of a community: events, social support, mutual education, enterprise, and so much more. Everyone I’ve known who has come to New Hampshire with this goal in mind has found real community.

And also found great personal and economic freedom. There is a network effect that has already begun to kick in. The more people who move here, the more freedom is building a social infrastructure to protect itself against tyranny. It’s a beautiful thing to see and experience.

I’ve come to treasure all the time I spend in New Hampshire for this reason. What you encounter is a hugely diverse community of people who are united on the core principle of a thriving and prosperous society: voluntarism, which is to say, do what you want but never use force against another person or his or her property.

The Free State Project is one of the most effective and well-developed approaches to building liberty rather than waiting for it to come to us. It is a plan of action, something that is really making a difference in our time. It’s always been this way: the freedom we have is the freedom we claim. All hail the FSP and may it long prosper, while showing the rest of the world how not to despair — even when we are politically unfree — but strive to live freer.

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Free the People publishes opinion-based articles from contributing writers. The opinions and ideas expressed do not always reflect the opinions and ideas that Free the People endorses. We believe in free speech, and in providing a platform for open dialog. Feel free to leave a comment!

Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey A. Tucker is Founder and President of the Brownstone Institute. He is also Senior Economics Columnist for Epoch Times, author of 10 books, including Liberty or Lockdown, and thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.

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  • Speaking of network effects, FSP people are masters at turning any old thing into an “event.” I’ve been invited to bitcoin meetups, group luncheons, charity fundraisers, all sorts of political activities, New Mover Parties, and other less formal get-togethers, simply by making a few friends who are more involved in the FSP than I. It really is an amazing experience to partake in, and an awesome warmth and excitement overtake me everytime I see what can be accomplished in my own backyard. It doesn’t happen anywhere else.

  • This is a great piece, Jeffrey. Thank you so much for writing it. New Hampshire is now the Go To destination for freedom.

    After much humming and hawwing, I finally signed up as a participant. I have to credit the efforts of a NH based gang of progressives for finally convincing me to take the plunge. But that’s a story for another time.

    One thing I will mention is that for the politically inclined, New Hampshire is like heaven on earth. Their state house has 400 members, many of whom are liberty oriented. Better yet, they’re incredibly accessible. The state doesn’t provide them a paid staff to keep them away from our unwashed rabble. So the legislators answer their own mail, and their own phone. And for this they’re paid the princely sum of $200 per year.

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