The libertarian blogosphere has been abuzz of late regarding Patri Friedman's essay Beyond Folk Activism. Patri (I call him by his first name to disambiguate him from his grandfather Milton and father David) argues that the old-fashioned libertarian approach of changing one mind at a time through intellectual activism is passé, and that the time has come for more radical action: namely, inventing libertarian societies out of whole cloth on the high seas (yes, he's serious).
But Patri's analysis is more subtle than that. He sets out several different paths to a free society:
To this list Scott Bieser helpfully adds agorism (really a practical variant of market anarchism).
Since I've slowly evolved away from the either-or, nothing-but attitude endemic in the Randian movement, I don't tend to see any of these strategies as the one true path (as Brian Doherty comments in his reply to Patri, there are many paths to libertarianism). Success, I think, will be found in a combination of these strategies (and others). Just as you would not put all your savings into one investment vehicle, so also with societal reform: the watchword is diversify, diversify, diversify.
Practically this means that intellectual activism is still important (indeed, as has been pointed out by others, Patri is engaging in intellectual activism by publishing essays against intellectual activism at Cato Unbound). As Free State Project founder Jason Sorens notes in his reply to Patri, libertarians also need to focus on institutional change. To my mind, that means saying no to state services and building alternative institutions that cater to those who want to find freedom in an unfree world -- say, something like a "ZAP Society", which could provide legal and other services to those who commit to the zero-aggression principle. Another part of the picture will involve growing pro-freedom communities or enclaves or frithsteads throughout the world, through projects like the FSP/FSW, free trade zones in emerging countries, and yes those floating platforms out at sea. Agorism and market anarchism could flourish in such communities. Yet those far-flung communities will also want and need to network in loosely-coupled ways for purposes of trade and information exchange, preferably in secure ways over the Internet (shades of crypto-anarchy, anyone?).
Different people will be better suited to work on some of these efforts than on others, which is just fine because they are complementary. Sure, not everyone wants to live on a seastead, move to New Hampshire or Wyoming or some other free community, fight the intellectual good fight through blogs and policy studies, labor on the details of information security, build alternative institutions, and so on -- but in fact that is good, since those who value freedom are working at various aspects of an extremely hard problem: how to create a future that is much more free than the present. Best of all, as Ayn Rand once said, "anyone who fights for the future, lives in it today" -- or, as I put it recently, we need to work as if freedom is already here.
Onward and upward!
Peter Saint-Andre > Journal