The First Dimension of Association
NOTE: The opinions and commentary expressed in this essay are those of the author and are an exercise of free speech. They do not necessarily represent the views of Free State Project Inc., its Directors, its Officers, or its Participants.
The First Dimension of Association
by Steve Cobb
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
-- Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania
Corollary: They that can give up essential liberty to obtain anything deserve neither it nor liberty, nor will they probably get it.
The Minority Representation Problem and the Local Majority Solution
In a democratic political system where decisions are made governing territorial divisions, a minority that is spread evenly across the divisions is at a disadvantage. Though they may comprise, say, 10% of the total population, they may win 0% of the representatives if the basis for their separation from the majority group is important enough to the vote. The minority is effectively disenfranchised.
The solution to this problem is well known: create a local majority either by creatively drawing the voting districts to match the minority population (known as gerrymandering), or by concentrating the minority population in a smaller territory. Besides the obvious problems with these solutions (e.g. getting the political power to gerrymander in the first place, and the logistical effort of moving people to another location), a difficult question arises: what to do if you belong to more than one minority group?Which Minority Dimension?
I am black, an atheist, an Esperantist, and a libertarian, a minority on at least four dimensions--race, religion, language, and politics--all of which are quite important in American society. Assuming that I wish to associate only with "my own kind," so that the democratic process produces an environment that suits my needs and values, how shall I go about it? If I go live in a black area, there may not be any atheists, and if I live with Esperantists, there will not be many libertarians. One can only choose a single physical territory, which is what our democratic representation is based on. The solution is to prioritize the groups that one belongs to, gathering first with the group that is most important, then within that population with the group that is second-most important, and so on down the line. But what should that sequence be?The Fundamental Dimension
If there is one basis for association that is most important, and critical to all the others, it is liberty, i.e. the mutual respect for each other's right to act within a large sphere of action without interference, as long as one is not violating someone else's rights. Within a community that respects your rights, you are free to further associate with other minority groups and otherwise pursue your dreams. Having first associated with those who choose cooperative, non-coercive relationships, one can then subdivide into, say, language groups, whether Esperanto, Scots Gaelic, Pennsylvania Dutch, or something more obscure. Switzerland, with its four languages and decentralized political system, is a more peaceful place than many other countries with just one common language.
Those who forget the importance of liberty, and join with those who prioritize some other passionate interest, may discover in the end that their common ideals are not realized. This lesson was learned by Bolsheviks in Russia betrayed by their revolution, drug warriors in the US who have seen drugs driven underground and use rise, and idealistic Islamic revolutionaries in Iran who hoped religion would purify government. Whatever one's cause, it is second to liberty.
Why the FSP Deserves a State
The Free State Project is a plan in which liberty-minded people will move to a single state to secure a free society. Why should other minority groups not attempt the same thing in the same state for their own cause? Because liberty is the critical first dimension, which must be ensured at the highest possible level. As long as the larger population has renounced the use of force to impose its will on others, all other minorities can be accommodated within, as long as they share that fundamental principle of the larger group. Within the Free State, all minority groups will be welcome, as long as they revere liberty.
March 31, 2002
The views expressed in this essay do not necessarily represent those of Free State Project, Inc., its Directors, or its Officers.