A Perfect Climate for Liberty

There has been some talk about establishing an explicitly libertarian country, perhaps on an artificial platform in the middle of the sea.  But I would suggest that, to create a society that is amenable to libertarian principles, a certain kind of physical environment is necessary.  That is because the survival of these libertarian principles would depend on society’s willingness to preserve it.

Over the years, the kind of government intended by the founders of the United States has vanished from existence.  Sure, they had disagreements over what the government should look like exactly, but the US government’s current form would certainly not be among any of their visions.  I would argue that this is primarily due to society and its lack of vigilance in preserving the elements of that government that protected liberty.  Not to say that it doesn’t protect liberty at all any more, but its ability to do so has certainly eroded.  I would say the biggest culprit in that is the progressive movement.  Nonetheless, the progressive movement has been rather successful in implementing radical reforms to the US government, despite the fact that such reforms have dramatically increased the size of said government, which necessarily shifts some power from individuals to the state.  I would argue that this was allowed to happen because people stopped caring about liberty as much.  For example, look at the modern left.  The way the average leftist thinks is radically different from the way someone thinks who considers individual liberty a high priority.  And the concept of natural law, the universal, objective law that exists before written law, is alien.

Therefore, a society that respects and values individual liberty requires a culture that respects and values individual liberty.  And culture is shaped by environment.

As conflicted as this makes me, since I admire capitalism’s ability to transform tiny, resource-poor islands into highly-prosperous cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore, I don’t believe such capitalistic cities are necessarily stable.  That is, the comfort inherent in Western society, which these cities pretty much have, makes people complacent, reducing their vigilance.  Granted, that would happen in any environment, except for maybe the most harsh.  There is some evidence for this.  One of the most libertarian places on the planet is apparently Svalbard (as I have written about before in another blog), which, despite being part of Norway, a country known for its generous welfare state, has no welfare system at all.  The climate of Svalbard, which is well-within the Arctic circle, is so extreme that it would simply require too many resources to help people who would otherwise depend on welfare.  Another interesting part of life in Svalbard is the constant threat of polar bears, which requires residents to be able to defend themselves, lest they be mauled to death.  There’s no polar bear police to protect the citizens.

This isn’t to say that a harsh climate guarantees liberty or that liberty is a natural outcome of a difficult environment (which is obviously not the case, as evidenced by the plentiful examples of such places).  Liberty still has to be deliberately instilled in the culture.  A very low population density would also probably help.  What I’m saying here is that, if some magical libertarian country  were to be founded, it would likely have the best chance of surviving in a harsh climate because people would be forced to be self-reliant and would not take their comfort for granted.*  Which is another reason why Antarctica would be an ideal location.  You’d definitely want to avoid anywhere with a pleasant climate and plentiful resources, like the Mediterranean.**

*Note that I’m not saying comfort is bad, per se.  Just that it’s best when you have to work for it.

**Incidentally, I wonder if this has anything to do with the differences between Northern and Southern Europe.  Northern Europe is prosperous because, I would argue, it’s got a relatively healthy culture that values hard work, efficiency, and prudence, whereas Southern Europe tends to be lazy, spendthrift, and less functional (I know this is a stereotype, but it clearly has some truth to it).  Obviously, this is just a correlation and may just be a coincidence, but it seems to make sense.

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4 Comments

  1. Generously, this is a grim assessment for Libertarians. Svalbard or Antarctica? Those are my choices? I’m seriously considering changing my party affiliation to Nihilist.

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    • You’re getting soft.

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      • Ha!

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      • In all seriousness though, I don’t know if it would be possible to actually achieve a libertarian society (which is why the preceding and following ramblings are merely a thought exercise). This is only the way I think it would need to be done, since there is a semi-example in real life (i.e. Svalbard). In any case in which people are not forced to be self-reliant, how do you keep society libertarian? And not the wacky pothead conspiracy theorist variety of libertarian, which seems to be the kind of people that deliberately libertarian movements tend to attract. Look at the Free State Project. These aren’t self-reliant people devoted to individual freedom; they’re immature people who think the best way to accomplish things is to be a nuisance. I don’t know about you, but that’s not the kind of person that could create a libertarian utopia. I mean, they chose New Hampshire over Wyoming for Christ’s sake. Going by demographics, New Hampshire is an effete, densely-populated East Coast state filled with urban professionals and French people, whereas Wyoming is a sparsely-populated state with a history of rugged individualism and with stunning natural beauty that has far fewer people. I don’t actually think a utopia is what the goal should be, since they’ve always failed, I just think hardship is underrated. I’m sure I would be a better and happier person than I am now if I had been forced to work harder when I was younger. I apologize for this perhaps overly long reply, it’s just what I happen to be thinking about at the moment and it seems relevant.

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