Strategy of Strategies
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 Free State Project as a Strategy of Strategies
Delivered by Jason P. Sorens to the Greenville County (S.C.) Libertarian Party, October 3, 2002 and in modified form to the South Carolina League of the South annual convention, October 12, 2002
Good evening, and thank you for having me.
Tonight I will be speaking on ?the Free State Project as a strategy of strategies.? I will make the case that no matter what political strategy you personally favor for achieving a free society, the success of the Free State Project will make that strategy much more powerful than it would be otherwise.
First let me explain what the Free State Project is in a nutshell. According to the website, ?The Free State Project is a plan in which 20,000 or more liberty-oriented people will move to a single state of the U.S. to secure there a free society. We will accomplish this by first reforming state law, opting out of federal mandates, and finally negotiating directly with the federal government for appropriate political autonomy. We will be a community of freedom-loving individuals and families, and create a shining example of liberty for the rest of the nation and the world.?
The way it works is that we are circulating a Statement of Intent - I have some with me tonight - among libertarians, classical liberals, and other advocates of strictly limited government. Once we obtain 20,000 signatures, everyone who has signed up begins to move. We have a five-year ?grace period? in which to move after we reach 20,000. We decide on the state to move to once we reach 5,000 signatures, and we currently have over 1,200 signatures. We are considering ten states: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Delaware, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Alaska. These were chosen as the candidate states because they are all under 1.5 million population and are relatively pro-freedom. Our research indicates that 20,000 activists would be able to win statewide majorities in these states.
So why the Free State Project, and why now? Because the federal government continues to usurp powers from the states, and because more and more decisions are being made by supranational entities like the UN, the OECD, and the EU, we feel that the window of opportunity for effecting real change through the political system is gradually closing. If we do not do something now, our children and grand-children may be locked into a system that they can do nothing to change. States still have significant legislative powers and are the fundamental units of our American polity; therefore, we should make use of the federal system to achieve liberty in at least one place. If we continue to be spread out all over the country, and to aim our efforts at bringing Washington, D.C. to the light, then we will surely fail.
By contrast, if we focus our efforts on a single state, we dramatically increase our chances of winning significant victories for freedom. Typically, people advocate three different strategies for obtaining freedom: education, political action, and privacy protection. These strategies are by no means exclusive, but many people tend to emphasise one over the others. I believe that the Free State Project will dramatically increase the impact of all three.
First I will deal with privacy protection. Many libertarians are interested in dropping beneath the government?s radar and simply living their lives as if they were already free. They tend to use cash in their transactions whenever possible, to homeschool their children, and to practice self-sufficiency techniques by relying on their own resources, rather than government or corporations, for water, electricity, food, and sanitation. They don?t do these things because they?re involved in illegal activities; they simply believe it is their right to ignore the state if they want to. The Amish and Hutterites are examples of people following this strategy: they don?t want to overthrow the government, but they want to be able to live their lives undisturbed by the government.
This strategy has significant costs - there is no doubt about that. Not many people are willing to give up most modern conveniences in order to live a life of anonymity. However, there are quite a few people who are willing to do this, and their lifestyle becomes a great deal easier in a Free State. First of all, they would not have quite as many government restrictions and requirements hedging them in and making their lives difficult. Perhaps more importantly, they could call on over 20,000 other sympathetic people in their state to assist them in whatever they need: buying their products, investing in their businesses, selling to them at discounts, and even providing legal services if need be.
Others are indeed interested in changing the society around them, and they believe that a prerequisite for making changes is educating people about the benefits and justice of liberty. Some even go so far as to say that we should not even attempt political action unless we have already completed the task of education. I believe that we need to have the political vehicles there, ready to carry our ideas into practice as we accomplish the task of education. Whatever you believe, it is clear that the Free State Project would dramatically improve the outlook for the educational strategy.
When it comes to politics, most people simply believe whatever they were told growing up. The modern welfare-warfare state did not develop because people all over America were clamouring for it; rather, the politicians took every opportunity to expand their power and appease special interests, while Americans were apathetic and eventually became real believers in the big-government ideas crammed into their heads by the media and government schools. But among our 20,000 will be teachers, professors, writers, journalists, and ?idea people? of all kinds. Once we are concentrating our educational efforts in a single state, especially a state that already feels it is somewhat ?different? and alienated from Washington, DC, ordinary people will view our ideas as a relevant alternative. They will take them seriously and over time will question what they grew up believing. Their children will be energised by the new ideas being disseminated in our communities, and they will grow up believing that they can and should make significant changes, bringing decisions back home where they belong, and out of the hands of a distant, bureaucratic federal government.
Once we have established significant political reforms, the educational benefits for defenders of freedom around the globe will be immense. We will finally have our ?city on a hill,? a case study in what mere freedom can do for a people - and for an economy.
The most apparent benefits of the Free State Project come in the realm of political action. Can you imagine what 20,000 people financing political campaigns and thinktanks, volunteering their time for everything from putting up posters to participating in street demonstrations, writing letters to newspapers and to legislators, and - yes - running for office would do for a political movement? I can. We?ve crunched the numbers, and we?ve found that 20,000 political activists could elect a governor, a state legislative majority, and even a couple of U.S. Senators and a U.S. Representative in the states we?re considering. Of course there may be accusations of carpet-bagging, of ?outsiders trying to take over.? For that reason we have to start humbly, by supporting the local freedom activists already there. After a few years many of us will start running local candidacies, and then we can work up from there. We also have to make it clear that we love the state we?ve chosen, that we don?t want to change its lifestyle or traditions, and that our goal is not to ?take over? but to make politicians more accountable and put more decisions back in the hands of the citizens of our state.
Currently libertarian activists are spread out all over the country. As a result, the only races we can regularly win are for local, non-partisan offices. I?ve calculated that if Libertarian Party election results in federal races increase at the same rate as they have for the last few years, it will take over a century for us to have a shot at winning a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. With the Free State Project we can virtually guarantee ourselves a Representative or two and a Senator or two within a couple of decades. They will not necessarily be Libertarian Party candidates, but they will espouse libertarian ideas, as Ron Paul does now. Imagine if we had several Ron Pauls in both the House and Senate. We might well hold the balance of power on a lot of key votes, and our ideas about drastically cutting government and restoring constitutional limits on spending and taxation will take center stage.
In closing, I would like to note what our ancestors did for freedom over 200 years ago, giving up their homes, their fortunes, and even their lives. Today, Americans are more oppressed than they ever were under King George, but the sacrifices we need to make for freedom are so much less than what our forefathers had to endure. For that reason I believe the Free State Project is something every lover of liberty should seriously consider joining or supporting. As a strategy of strategies, the Free State Project should yield immense benefits, but the costs of participation are low. Thank you.
The views expressed in this essay do not necessarily represent those of Free State Project, Inc., its Directors, or its Officers.