Viva Liberland?

On 13 April, Vit Jedlicka became the president of the new micronation of Liberland on a small disputed area of forest in between Croatia and Serbia. Here I will discuss the idea of independent communities in Libertarian theory and their practical implications. The notion that smaller, more independent nations can be the first major step on the road to a free society has considerable traction in the USA. It has become a significant concept of the circle of academics associated with the Mises Institute. The enthusiastic emphasis on secession by some American Libertarians ensures that it is worthy of commentary. But is it true? Is the best path to Liberty paved with cobbles of smaller, more independent nations?

Whether it’s the Free State Project, Galt’s Gulch, Liberland or the Condominium of Neutral Moresnet. Small separatist idealists clearly have a place in the complex milieu of ideas that make up modern Libertarianism. However, I will suggest here that for several reasons, the idea of ‘mass secession’ in itself can only ever be a limited solution for engineering freedom en masse, but micronations like Liberland have much potential.

It is obvious that Murray Rothbard has had an instrumental role in shaping modern Libertarianism, he was an animated writer, imaginative political thinker and respected economist. However, Rothbard wasn’t much of a historian. The historical question of secession seems to have led the otherwise insightful thinker to some strange conclusions. His take on the American civil war is part of a long and petulant tradition of Civil War revisionism amongst American academics. The folks at the Mises Institute unfortunately adopt the same pro-confederate cause. If you are at all interested in sadomasochism, you might try reading Tom Wood’s politically incorrect guide to American history. My point here isn’t to discredit Rothbard or the Mises Institute out of hand. My goal is to draw attention to a particular strain of reasoning; concerning secession, that sees Libertarians at their least academically credible.

When discussing micronations and independent polities, it’s usually not long before someone mentions Switzerland. I will leave a thorough description of Switzerland to one side at this time. For now let’s just accept that it is small, relatively prosperous and has a renowned federal style of government. Much vaunted by right-wingers, if only Britain could be more like Switzerland! As an Anarchist, I find it strange to think that somehow being part of a smaller country means democracy will be more intense. Surely in a tiny nation of only 1 million, a lone voice is effectively just as meaningless as in a big nation of 100 million? If the answer is no, then how many people specifically represent the right size of country for democracy to function? Surely the cultural norms, history and democratic structures matter more than population size. It stands to reason then that a big nation can potentially respect individual rights more than a much smaller country.

So what’s the point of secession? Is Mr Jedlicka wrong to walk onto a volatile border and declare a new nation? History shows quite clearly that Serbian nationalists are not a group of people you would want to upset. Yet, there is something extremely alluring about breaking off from society, with its injustices and frustrations, and being part of a new polity of like-minded compatriots. Nor are Libertarians unique in wanting to put their ideas into practice. Independent communities are a long established part of the communist tradition, from the Paris Commune in 1871 to contemporary Anarcho-Syndicalist squats in London.

Ultimately, unlike the times of the Paris commune just about every square mile of land on this planet belongs to one country or another. Furthermore, a hope of mass abandonment of entire nations doesn’t seem to be a realistic prospect anytime soon. Most separatist movements in Europe whether in Catalonia, Scotland, Northern Italy or Transnistria hardly demonstrate a triumph of Liberalism. However, I will argue that micro-nations and secession movements can and will succeed. As long as these places represent an idea they stand a good chance of flourishing. What separates a successful project like Freetown Christiania from a disaster like Fordlandia, is that they stand for something, they show that a certain vision of society can indeed prosper. It also helps a lot if these movements don’t antagonise any of their larger neighbours. As is becoming the case with Liberland.

The most widely known examples of micro- nations are undoubtedly the cities of Hong Kong and Singapore. I will resist the temptation to state that they are examples of ‘pure free market’ economies because their histories are much more nuanced than that. However, they have been governed much more on capitalist lines than their neighbours, which is why they stand out. Importantly, Hong Kong and Singapore show that with the right policies in place, a tiny patch of land can become a prosperous metropolis. On a positive note the future looks bright for micronations. Sea Steads are already a distinct possibility and the government of Honduras is thinking about establishing ZEDEs (Zones for Employment and Economic Development). If the ZEDE system works well, some cities in Honduras will be effectively independent and free to govern themselves. Of course, there is the prospect that these schemes won’t happen or will go horribly wrong but they are promising nonetheless. If run properly, the ZEDE could provide a useful model for the developing world.

Fundamentally, Liberland can work. In a recent interview on Anarchast Jedlicka outlined that both the Croatian and Serbian police have made it difficult to enter the area. But despite resistance Liberland has garnered a huge amount of media interest as well as thousands of applications for citizenship. Hopefully in the not too distant future we will see more Libertarians putting their ideas effectively into practice; illuminating the way for larger nations in the process.

 

 

 

Cross posted from Alternative Archetype.