Steve Trinward
Contributing Editor

Steve Trinward is "Soul Proprietor" of Trinwords.Com (wordsmithing and editing services), and a contributing editor for Rational Review.

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The Free State Project: good idea or libertopian fantasy?
by Steve Trinward

The Free State Project wants YOU! At least that's what its proponents are telling us: Join this band of adventurers in moving en masse to some as-yet-uncertain American locale and taking over the operations and governing of that state, as they (and you) forge a true free society, unfettered by bureaucrats, or stupid regulations, or mindless laws regulating the peaceful behavior of sovereign individuals.

The project, which celebrated its one-year anniversary recently, is primarily the brainchild of Jason Sorens, the political science doctoral candidate now living in North Carolina who is both its founder and chairman. He believes that one viable way to achieve freedom in our time is to essentially take over an entire state, by importing enough libertarians to control its political map. He is backed by a variety of libertarians, Constitutionalists and other freedom-fighters with similar sentiments.

The idea is that if 20,000 libertarians all moved to the same state, the number of voters supporting Libertarian candidates would be sufficient to tip the scales and elect those candidates, thus bringing about a condition of Liberty and true justice for all, at very least in that state. Further information is available on their website, http://www.freestateproject.org, containing everything from analyses of the ten states still under consideration, to a discussion forum on the project, to material for advocates to use in promoting the FSP.

****

So much for the introduction; now to the meat of this column. Those who have read my previous writings, in this and other venues, might think I'd be a natural to join such a venture. I've spent most of my life bemoaning the encroachments on our lives by liberals and conservatives, Demopublicans and Reprocrats, fascists and socialists alike:

I grew up in the relatively free (at least back then) environs of smalltown Western Maine. I then spent a quarter-century in the so-called Cradle of Liberty, living through the ravages of Taxachusetts and being active in the Libertarian Party of Massachusetts for most of those 25 years. Finally, I escaped to Tennessee, where I have been an LPTN activist ever since, and most recently became the representative for my region on the Libertarian National Committee.

Add to that my years of involvement in anti-war, pro Bill of Rights and other pro-freedom arenas, and you'd think I'd be champing at the bit to get on this bandwagon, looking for any chance to live out my life in a freer state of being. Well I'm sorry, folks, but this is one liberty advocate who is not going to be signing up for the grand Exodus!

I've got some personal reasons, of course, not the least of which is my distaste for the relative climate to be found in nine of the ten states being considered for this idea. Basing their rationale on seeking out the ten states with the smallest populations, in order to have a better chance at overwhelming the residents with sheer numbers, the FSP is only looking at Northern New England, the Upper Midwest and Mountain Zone, and the unlikely alternative, Delaware, as their potential targets for takeover.

As I noted above, I grew up in Northern New England, in the Maine woods, and then toiled much too long in the Boston area. Part of my reason for migrating to Nashville was to avoid the bitterly cold winters, in both places. Tell me I need to move to Maine, New Hampshire or Vermont in order to find my freedom, and I'll tell you where you can stick your hat. Tell me I need to go to Montana, Wyoming, North or South Dakota or Idaho to find my freedom, I'll object even more loudly. Tell me Alaska is the answer, and in spite of my enjoyment of the Northern Exposure TV series, I'll tell you to just keep walking.

This leaves Delaware, almost in the shadow of the very Beltway from which we are allegedly trying to escape, and sort of "Maryland Southeast" in terms of many other factors. I admit it's a bit warmer over there most of time; I also know they have a good business climate, since I know several folks who have incorporated there to avoid the ravages of their own home-state commercial bondage. But I have few illusions that a serious incursion in the name of Liberty can succeed so geographically close to the very Leviathan we are trying to evade.

My next concern, also admittedly personal, is that I have come to truly love my adopted home here in Middle Tennessee. I've found not only a more amenable climate meteorologically speaking, but one with both creative and spiritual excellence. Meanwhile, the libertarian energies of the Volunteer State, both within and outside of the LP ranks, have impressed me on an almost daily basis. After spending most of the nearly ten years I've been here, establishing both a modicum of stability and a strong network of friends and allies, the last thing I'm about to do is pull up roots to join a quixotic quest for the Grail like this one is.

However, the biggest problem I have with the Free State Project's approach is its seeming denial of reality. Moving a bunch of disaffected libertarians to the same cartographic vicinity is only a small part of the process; if this thing is to succeed, it will take a far more committed cadre of activists to make things happen on the scale described by the founders of the project.

For example, they speak about the effect of having those 20,000 votes suddenly at the command of a new set of candidates. Consider this: How many libertarians do you know who, once they had made the move to new digs, would make it a priority (presumably for at bare minimum the next 5-10 years) to get out and vote each time -- let alone to help with the pollwatching, neighborhood canvassing and envelope stuffing involved in supporting a serious campaign for public office (or in this case, a whole slate of them?)?

I know personally how hard it is to get even card-carrying Libertarians to VOTE for a Libertarian. Just look at the statistics, and even the anecdotal evidence, from states where registering "Libertarian" has been possible for many years now: even those folks don't always vote, or pull the "L" lever each time they do. (I don't always get out there myself, except for Presidential races, where it is a matter of pride that I have never voted for anyone but the LP nominee, and have always done that, since I was old enough to register). I'm not at all convinced that this stalwart band of rabid individualists will be even that responsive to the necessities of electoral politics activism which this plan seems to require.

But let's say for argument that the Project does attract mostly those who are not only willing to move themselves across the country, but will get out and vote and continue the process once they get there. Next question: Who will they be voting for?

Given how hard it is now to get card-carrying Libertarians to run serious campaigns for public office, why is it going to be much easier with a bunch of carpetbaggers whose only connection is that they happen to value their own personal Liberty? Will this group of stalwarts also produce the kind of viable, electable candidate who can benefit from this supposed army of supporters and voters, and win the race? And will there be enough of them to make a difference in how things are done in that state? I honestly don't know, but I'm not sure the FSP folks do either.

And so the next question: Assuming the Project does include a sufficient number of legitimate campaigners, will they be either qualified for, or even interested in, taking those public offices? Most libertarians I know would prefer fighting in the trenches, battling bureaucrats in armed combat, to becoming a part of the system, and find themselves stuck in the "order-giver" role. How do you find real libertarians, who detest authoritarians, and then expect them to become part of the problem in order to resolve it?

Finally, how do you create continuity around this, by which once elected your Libertarian pols can STAY in office? Remember, you've essentially effected a palace coup, with interlopers from other parts of the country (strangers to the communities and neighborhoods. who have suddenly stepped into positions of power in their midst). What will stop the longtime citizens of whatever fair state you descend upon, and the politicians who have catered to them all along, from rising up and tossing the whole lot of you out with the next elections? What makes you think this will be a simple process, and that just as you begin to catch on (assuming you do?), you won't be hurled back to the street in the next go-round?

The challenge to all of this is the idea that an entire state can somehow be taken over politically, mostly by using those 20,000 committed libertarians. In order to make that happen, they will need to have a goodly number of them not only to vote faithfully, but do precinct work, and be willing to run, and serve in the elective offices, and work up the political foodchain, and BECOME those Senators and Representative(s) who start making a difference in Congress, that Governor who changes state law, those legislators who help him/her to do so, etc.

The way they are promoting this, however (and judging from the identity and predilections of a lot of those I know who have signed up so far), I think the Free State Project folks are hoping to convince a bunch of people -- most of whom just want to get somewhere where they have a half a chance of being left the hell alone -- to go along with the game plan -- in hopes that it will somehow magically happen in spite of all these challenges!

That in a nutshell is my objection to the idea, even if I were willing to move back into the frozen North (or freakin' Delaware?) ...

Okay, now that I've totally trashed your initial idea, let me offer some suggestions as to how this might actually work!

  • Start by focusing on the relative context of Liberty already existing in the various states, and not primarily on the relative size of their population,. Some already have a modicum of economic freedom; others have shown a willingness among their electorates to support civil liberties (e.g., via medical marijuana initiatives). Let these considerations hold far more weight than the sparseness of the population to be usurped. (Note: There are reasons why there are not more people living in Wyoming or North Dakota, for example … and the weather is only one of them!)

    Stop telling everyone how easy it will be to make this happen! You present this as a simple matter of infiltrating with enough numbers to make a significant impact on the electorate, but give little or no weight to the fact that you'll also need folks who can (and are willing to) run serious political campaigns, get elected, serve in office (probably NOT at the upper levels of government, at least not initially?) … and then go out and do it again and again, until the desired goals are achieved.

    Don't try to pretend this will be an overnight success! Acknowledge that even if you do get the 20,000 hardy souls to make the move, they will have to begin by blending into their communities, establishing some credibility and trust among their neighbors, and THEN stepping forward with the political agenda. Once again, if this looks like the "carpetbagger invasion" it is thus far being presented as, it will get smashed to bits -- even by people who might otherwise go along with the plan if they can see its real benefits.

    Spend some more time feeling out the existing freedom movements in the potentially targeted states, and let the level of 'welcome mat" in each of these have a major effect on the ultimate decision of where to go. Make a point of cooperating, and welcoming cooperation from, the Libertarian Party affiliate, the anti-war cadre, the Drug War opposition, the taxpayers organizations, the gun rights advocates … and the other folks already in place in the community you hope to "coopt."

    Finally, stop trying to convince national organizations (e.g., the Libertarian Party, or its Board of Directors, the LNC?) to support your cause. Concentrate on getting the support of the people in the states to which you are considering relocating -- the Libertarian Party affiliate, as well as other pro-freedom groups. Again, if you make this look like a palace coup, you are likely to get serious opposition even from those stalwart folks; be able to augment their efforts, and you might make this thing fly!

  • If the Free State Project were to consider some of these questions as serious criticisms, and not just the carping of another naysayer, I might change my tune a bit. It is still highly unlikely that I'll be convinced to join the project, but at least it might stop me telling others why they shouldn't!

    See Tom Knapp's opposing view, "Contra Trinward: the secret virtue of the Hail Mary."