Today’s libertarians are metaphysically mad, argued conservative guru Russell Kirk nearly two decades ago. Libertarians so disgusted Kirk he would have gladly herded them onto an ice flow and set them adrift in the middle of the Pacific.
Sounds like a great idea, says libertarian billionaire Peter Thiel.
Like Kirk, Thiel is also disgusted. Not with libertarians, but with Americans in general. In fact, he’s so disenchanted he wants to build a floating island 200 miles off California’s coast. (Though, technically, if it’s floating it’s not really an island. More like a raft.) Thiel’s new start-up country (naming rights available) would have a minimal form of government as befits a colony of libertarians. In fact, the government’s only function would be the defense of the maritime city-state from those roving pirates from Waterworld, and breaking up shrill disputes between minarchists and anarcho-capitalists.
Libertarians call this form of government a Night Watchman State, which is reminiscent of old guys walking around town making sure the barber shops are locked up at night. Libertarians believe this is all the government a society needs, because without government everyone will behave like the Brady Bunch. Somalia is a case in point. The main thing is, nobody will be able to force you to wear a seatbelt when you drive your car. Assuming you need a car on a raft.
These fantasy islanders, or “seasteaders,” who include Milton Friedman’s grandson Patri Friedman, strike some as nursing a bad case of sour grapes. They seem resentful that libertarian ideas and candidates haven’t caught on. In fact, they’re so bitter what they’d really like to do is start a colony on the moon or Mars, maybe. However, even with all their billions in Facebook shares, that’s not likely to happen soon.
Thiel says he would like to build his aquatic utopia’s government from scratch, much like America’s founding fathers. According to Friedman, the ultimate goal “is to open a frontier for experimenting with new ideas for government.” The problem is they don’t really have any new ideas. The Harm Principle was formulated by J.S. Mill circa 1859. Even the idea of founding a country on a deserted island was taken up by Sir Francis Bacon in New Atlantis back in 1624. Besides, anyone not educated in our public schools knows the U.S. wasn’t invented out of whole cloth; the founders were influenced by thousands of years of Western civilization going back to the Ancient Greeks. No matter, Thiel has something Madison, Adams, et al. didn’t have: billions of dollars earned doing business in the country he can’t wait to leave.
I CAN FORESEE several problems with this utopian scheme:
First, it’s a utopian scheme, so it’s bound to fail like all utopian schemes.
Second, giant squid.
Third, there’s the issue of a moral order. American society at least has a few vestiges of morality remaining, which keeps people like me from stealing my neighbor’s wife. But MacTopia, or whatever the new island nation is called, will have no moral order, because traditional morals are considered intolerable curbs on one’s liberty. In fact, you’ll be able to stop by the store, buy an assault rifle, a rock of crack and a hooker, and then walk next door and pickup your child from his private elementary school, since there will be no pesky vice laws or zoning ordinances. Convenient as hell. Literally.
Fourth, one good tsunami could wipe out the whole venture.
Most important, Thiel and Friedman are forgetting about human nature. At least a few of the islanders will bear children, and those children will inevitably rebel and become Marxist-Leninists, or at least liberals, if only out of boredom. By the time Thiel is packed off to the Alzheimer’s unit, MacTopia (now renamed Che Guevara Island) will be no different from Berkeley, California, with super high taxes, abortion on demand, generous welfare benefits, and homeless people blocking every street corner begging for handouts. Then come the riots.
Despite this certain doom, the idea of seasteading is catching fire (also a distinct possibility), and not just with rich libertarians. Some of these floating island nations will be socialist in nature. No doubt there will be fundamentalist Christian, fundamentalist Islamic, even anarcho-transhumanism colonies too. Consumers will be able to island hop till they find a form of government that suits them just right. Though, in the end, they will all suffer the same ill fate as every other utopian colony.
If the giant squid doesn’t get them first.