Over the weekend, the Seasteading Institute reached its $20,000 fund-raising goal to design the "world's first floating city." Lead by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel and Patri Friedman (Milton's grandson), their non-profit group has been dedicated to exploring the possibility of creating an an independent, autonomous island in international waters, free from U.S. laws and regulations.
Now that the fundraising has ended, will libertarians begin to flock towards this aquatic libertopia?
First of all, it's easy to see the appeal behind the idea. Nearly every move and breath one takes is subject to detailed, coercive regulations by the U.S. government, and the trend seems to be only getting worse. As Matthew Harword and Christopher Calabrese detail in a recent article forTomDispatch, the technology and tactics at the disposal of the federal government at virtually every agency level to spy on, monitor, and entrap Americans means that there are very few places for libertarians and anyone else concerned about the future of civil liberties and privacy to turn to.
But how feasible is this seasteading plan?
While the start-up money is there, Friedman admits that it could cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build an artificial island for just a few thousand people. The logistics of living in a world surrounded by states known for their aggression — armed with navies and long-range missiles — also poses problems.
But while the idea may still be a pipe dream in the minds of rich technocrats, the principle behind such a movement is what is important. The seasteaders seek not to gain political power but are simply searching for a way (albeit, a radical one) to be left alone to live in peace. If it succeeds, then they will reap the rewards, and if it fails, then they alone will bear the costs of their investments.
(Photo from Chris Baker, Wired.com)
It's hard to think of a better example of libertarianism in practice: futuristic technology, individual innovation, and a bit of starry-eyed romanticism. While someone like me can sit behind this keyboard and critique them for their supposed idealism and wasting their money, the beauty of libertarianism is respecting how others choose to exercise their freedom —especially if that freedom is peaceful and voluntary.
Another important factor behind seasteading is that in a country and a world that is tragically lacking in individual liberty and free markets, there are many different methods of trying to escape the iron fist of Leviathan but one unifying principle: disengagement from the American empire in any way possible, withdrawing one's consent, and circumventing its spider web of regulations.
Thiel and Friedman have thrown their weight behind seasteading, but not all of us are Silicon Valley heavyweights. Thousands of libertarians have moved and plan on moving to New Hampshire to create a sanctuary for peace and freedom. If you don't like freezing winters, then North Carolina is trying something similar. A California-Oregon border town that has wanted to secede for decades to become an independent, libertarian city-state (appropriately named "Jefferson") is gaining steam.
Alternatives to the imperial dollar still remains one of the best ways to not only retain purchasing power stolen by the U.S. to fight its endless wars overseas but also to take a principled stand against using the currency that is at the heart of U.S. power. I'll never understand Bitcoins, but they are growing exponentially. Commodity Discs are medallions that instantly tell you the spot price of gold, silver, or any other currency around the globe.
Former Congressman Ron Paul just released an excellent new book on the virtues of alternatives to government schools and has even written a homeschool curriculum. Paul understands the beauty of local and decentralized decision-making when it comes to education, and also can read the market: Homeschooling is exploding in this country. Thiel himself awards scholarships to tech-savvy not for stifling schools but to form start-ups instead.
Thiel and Friedman's dream of a libertarian utopia on the seas may or not be viable, but the desire to be free and and to participate in the peaceful, market order that lies at the heart of prosperity and civilization will never die.
Thankfully, as the world grows smaller and we are able to connect and interact at an increasingly cheaper and quicker level, finding freedom in an un-free world will only become easier.