This article was published in the Autumn 1999 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation

Selecting a Site for a Free Nation in an Unfree World

by Roy Halliday

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Galt's Gulch
All the Good Places Have Been Taken
We Need Good Neighbors

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"Libertarians have often dreamed of escaping the tyranny of the State; some have sought to do so by seeking refuge in distant and uninhabited lands where they could live in solitary hermitage or in small communities held together by the principle of voluntary association and mutual aid. But historians know that such experiments seldom survive in peace for long; sooner or later the State finds and confronts them with its instinctive will to violence, its mania for coercion rather than persuasion, for compulsion rather than voluntarism. Such has been the fate of the Mormons and Mennonites, the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Amish people, among others." 1

The places that have historically had the least government and the most political freedom have generally been hidden or hard to reach or not worth reaching. By a "hidden" place I mean a place that was unknown to any of the world's empires. North America, for example, was unknown to and "hidden" from the European empires prior to the 1500s. Some of the native tribes in North America such as the Cherokees lived in peace without a state in those days. They did not develop a state until Europeans settled nearby and created a need for the Cherokees to have a unified foreign policy and an agency to express it to the colonial authorities.2

The Inuit (Eskimos) in the North American arctic region are an example of a people who lived free from government because they were hidden in a place that was hard to reach and had no wealth worth stealing. In Africa before the colonial period, anarchy was the order of the day among hunter-gatherers such as the Bushmen and Pygmies, and among gardeners such as the Lugbara, Konkomba, and Ibo, and among herders such as the Nuer. Eventually the European powers subjected them to colonial government and then they were gobbled up by third-world nations.3

In the past, people who lived at high latitudes or high altitudes were relatively safe from the empires of the world.4 Even the Roman Legions gave up trying to conquer the Picts in the Scottish Highlands.

People in medieval Iceland and Celtic Ireland enjoyed political freedom for many years because they were relatively remote from predator states and they lived in cold climates that did not allow them to produce much of a surplus given the technology of the time. Eventually, Norway took an interest in Iceland and recognized one of the competing chiefs as the official head of Iceland. He became the dominant chief and made Iceland a Norwegian dependency. Ireland, of course, was invaded and conquered by the English.5

For a while the pioneers in the American West outpaced the ability of the U.S. government to control them. Even after the state established its monopoly of law and order in the West, it still had a hard time extending its discipline to the people who lived in the deserts and wastelands. For years outlaws were able to escape to the Badlands of North and South Dakota.

But now it seems that every place is known and kept under control by one state or another, and there are no free places left.

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Galt's Gulch

In her novel, Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand portrayed a libertarian paradise called Galt's Gulch, which was hidden somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Its location and even its existence were kept secret. It was only accessible by small aircraft, and it was disguised by a new technology that made it look like a mountain to pilots who happened to fly near it. The founders recruited settlers individually in private, after pre-screening them for qualities such as creative genius and devotion to libertarian principles. Because it was unknown to the outside world, Galt's Gulch needed no state to conduct foreign policy and no military forces to provide national defense.

A society of libertarians living in freedom from government with no need for military forces, yet safe from attack sounds very attractive to me. But Galt's Gulch has some unattractive qualities. The need to keep the place secret would prevent the residents from getting the benefits of world trade and the world-wide division of labor. Galt's Gulch would have to be practically self-sufficient. It couldn't access the capital markets of the world to attract investment. This would slow its economic growth, limit the productivity of its residents, and hold down their prosperity.

Freedom is valuable to me, but it is not my only concern. I also value other things such as physical comfort and civilization. A place like Galt's Gulch could satisfy my desire for freedom, but it would not satisfy some of my other desires as much as the USA does. So, even if Galt's Gulch existed and were kept secret through a conspiracy of silence and hidden from view by a cloaking device, I would not be tempted to move there.

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All the Good Places Have Been Taken

The other problem with Galt's Gulch is that it doesn't exist. We know of no good sites that the governments of the world don't already control. So FNF needs to select a site from among the places that are too remote, too uncomfortable, or too poor for any of the existing states to care about.

But the Free Nation Foundation is interested in creating a free and prosperous nation, not a free but poor nation. We don't want to live like Bushmen or Eskimos. So the fact that all the places with nice climates and abundant natural resources are already in the hands of statists who will not relinquish them is a big problem for us.

We need to look for a place that is undeveloped because of government mismanagement rather than because it is remote, frozen, parched, or without natural resources.

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We Need Good Neighbors

Another factor to consider in selecting a site for a free nation is the aggressiveness of the nearby countries. A new free nation will be militarily weak and could easily be conquered by an invading army. So we need to select a site in a region that has relatively non-aggressive states.

R. J. Rummel has assembled data on violence committed by governments in the 20th century. He includes among his findings the following facts that we should take into consideration when selecting a site for a free nation:

From 1816 to 1991 the wars in which 1000 or more people were killed involved 353 pairs of nations fighting each other. None of these pairs consisted of two democracies. Of these pairs, 155 were democracies fighting non-democracies and 198 involved two non-democracies fighting each other.7

R. J. Rummel includes Costa Rica among the current liberal democracies.8 So maybe FNF's friend Rigoberto Stewart, who is trying to carve a free nation out of Costa Rica by encouraging the people in the province of Limón to secede, has chosen a good location. Limón is poor, but it has plenty of natural resources, a warm climate, enough rainfall, and a port on the Caribbean Sea. It is not remote from civilization. It can be reached by settlers from the USA by land, sea, or air. Its neighbors, Nicaragua and Panama, are democratic and non-imperialistic.

If Limón secedes from Costa Rica and adopts the type of government proposed by Rigoberto Stewart, with its democratic form and libertarian substance, it could become the kind of free and prosperous nation that we are seeking. D


 1 Joseph R. Peden "Stateless Societies: Ancient Ireland" in The Libertarian Forum
April 1971 p. 3.
 2 Elman R. Service, Origins of the State and Civilization, pp. 140-148.
 3 Harold Barclay, People without Government: An Anthropology of Anarchy, Inuit pp. 42-45, Bushmen pp. 45-47, Pygmies pp. 47-49, Lugbara pp. 58-61, Konkomba pp. 61-63, Ibo pp. 71-72, Nuer pp. 85-88, gobbled up p. 145.
 4 Spencer Heath, Citadel, Market and Altar, p. 74
 5 On Iceland see Barclay op. cit. pp. 93-96.  On Ireland see Peden op. cit. pp. 3-4,  6 R. J. Rummel, Power Kills: Democracy as a Method of Nonviolence, pp. 4-6.
 7 Ibid p. 13.
 8 Ibid p. 11.

Roy Halliday has two grown-up sons, Matthew (28) and Jesse (26), who are both libertarians. Matthew lives in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Jesse and his wife Paula (who is also a libertarian) live in Raleigh, North Carolina, as does Roy.

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