I like steak, pizza and chicken. I don’t care for seafood, Chinese food or most veggies. (Don’t mention that last part to my doctor.) I would be rather unhappy in a world where the majority voted to adopt seafood and Chinese for all the restaurants. I would be happy if none of the restaurants served what I don’t like, but many other people wouldn’t be. Fortunately, it’s not an either/or situation. I have the places I like. They have the places they like. We can change our minds and move back and forth between restaurants.
So if this competitive model is good for restaurants — and cars and computers and pretty much everything the free market provides — why do most people tend to favor “one true way” for governing territory?
It’s easy to point fingers at statists of various stripes and feel that libertarians aren’t afflicted by this same “one size fits all” disease, but I think many people still are. When libertarians talk about establishing a free country, they generally have in mind a world where people are free to do what they want, but there are limited local governments to take care of basic services. It occurs to me that it’s no more moral to impose our “one size fits all” model than it is for anyone else to.
When I first started considering libertarian ideas (something like 20 years ago), I was one of those who envisioned imposing our version of a free society on everyone. Now, though, I’m much more interested in multiple, competing models of governance. As long as people had the right to move freely between the models, it would be up to them how they chose to live.
Some anarchists want to live in a society with no real rules — just the understanding that you do your thing on your property and I’ll do mine on my property. They don’t want rules about what can be done and what can be built and what businesses can go where, similar to what’s developed on the street in the picture at the right. They envision a world that would seem like chaos to many people. There’s nothing wrong with their vision, but it’s only one of many models.
Some people want a society that’s much more like the one in the early days of this country, when small governments provided basic services and left us alone otherwise. Other people want a society that’s much more organized and structured, where it’s managed like a gated community or a giant Disney theme park in order to provide the most sanitized and safe and entertaining environment possible.
There are a dozen models that we could quickly list and there are many more that I haven’t even thought of. Some might be socialist. Some might be based on religious principles of various sorts. Many of them would be nutty and wouldn’t work. But there’s no reason for people not to have the freedom to try them all.
I believe the days of the nation-state are coming to an end. In the chaos that’s going to come about because of some of the social, political and economic collapse that I foresee, there are going to be opportunities to experiment with new models of governance. We need to be prepared for whatever it is we want to start, even if we can’t agree on what we want.
Think of them as business startups. Many people have ideas for businesses. Some of those ideas will get investment funding and start up. Some of those will be successful and compete for customers. Why can’t it be the same way for governing territory?
I’ve been thinking about these issues for about 15 years, but I’m only now discovering that others are thinking the same things. If you want a good starting place, I suggest the terrific site called Let A Thousand Nations Bloom. Another site that came to my attention last week is for a non-profit that is trying to improve life around the world through entrepreneurial change, but the people at Openworld seem to be very much in favor of personal freedom. If you have suggestions for other sources of information about this, please leave them in the comments. (I’ve gotten so much good information lately that I’m having trouble remembering what all of it is, so don’t be shy about repeating a good source that I should already know.) I have a lot to learn, so I’m interested in what you already know about this. I’ve been told about at least one website coming that’s going to deal with competitive governance, so I’ll certainly be linking to that one when it’s online. In addition, the item I did last week about “free cities” is also applicable to this, so check the links there.
Also, I’m curious which model of society you’d like to live in. Personally, I’m interested in a very structured society that might have more in common with Disney World than with a typical anarchist paradise. (The picture at right is of a tree-lined street in the Birmingham-area planned community of Mount Laurel, which is one such small example that I love.) I wouldn’t mind running a successful company that owns and operates such a city — for a profit. What are you interested in pursuing, either as a place to live or as a business or non-profit startup for yourself?