Do libertarians like Peter Thiel really want to live in America?
By Sally Kohn
The opinions expressed are her own.
It sounds like “Fantasy Island” meets “The Twilight Zone” — a privately funded island nation created for the sole purpose of escaping government.
In the olden days, corporate titans just hired pricey lawyers and accountants to dodge the watchful eye of government regulation and the law. But thanks to record economic inequality that has enriched the already-wealthy more than ever, a group of investors has the spare millions to build an entirely man-made ocean-bound nation where they can make the rules up themselves. It’s Libertarianism 2.0: the final, floating frontier.
In a recent profile by Details magazine, it was revealed that PayPal founder and libertarian activist Peter Thiel has contributed $1.25 million dollars to the Seasteading Institute, a plan hatched by the grandson of free market economist Milton Friedman to establish “new sovereign nations built on oil-rig-type platforms anchored in international waters — free from the regulation, laws, and moral suasion of any landlocked country.” The Details profile explains, “They’d be small city-states at first, although the aim is to have tens of millions of seasteading residents by 2050.” Already, plans are underway to launch an office complex off the coast of San Francisco next year, adding full-time housing settlements on the island seven years later.
Don’t like the idea of tax dollars paying for public schools or highway construction or Medicare — or don’t like the idea of taxes at all? The brave new floating world offers just the solution. And if the self-appointed creators wish it, there would be no restrictions on guns or automatic weapons. Or, for that matter, no prohibition against murder. Pesky “moral suasion”!
The seasteading project is a bright and shiny warning buoy, heralding the dangerous agenda of otherwise tame-seeming libertarians. It raises the question of whether libertarians want to prune back American government or eliminate it altogether. This is not an idle concern. Prominent Libertarians want to abolish the Federal Reserve, FEMA and the TSA and that may be just the start. Until 2006, the Libertarian Party Platform explicitly supported the right of political entities, private groups and even individuals to secede from the federal government. Fearing this seemed too extremist, Libertarians replaced that platform plank with a clause about the right of people to abolish the government anytime it destroys individual liberty — a very narrow and ominous reinterpretation of the Declaration of Independence.
Fringe movements, of course, rarely cast themselves as obviously fringe. Racist, anti-civil rights forces cloaked themselves in the benign language of “state’s rights”. Anti-gay religious entities adopted the glossy, positive imagery of “family values”. Similarly, though many Libertarians embrace a pseudo-patriotic apple pie nostalgia, behind this façade is a very un-American, sinister vision.
Sure, most libertarians may not want to do away entirely with the idea of government or, for that matter, government-protected rights and civil liberties. But many do — and ironically vie for political power in a nation they ultimately want to destroy. Even the right-wing pundit Ann Coulter mocked the paradox of Libertarian candidates: “Get rid of government — but first, make me president!” Libertarians sowed the seeds of anti-government discontent, which is on the rise, and now want to harvest that discontent for a very radical, anti-America agenda. The image of libertarians living off-shore in their lawless private nation-states is just a postcard of the future they hope to build on land.
Strangely, the libertarian agenda has largely escaped scrutiny, at least compared to that of social conservatives. The fact that the political class is locked in debate about whether Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry is more socially conservative only creates a veneer of mainstream legitimacy for the likes of Ron Paul, whose libertarianism may be even more extreme and dangerously un-patriotic. With any luck America will recognize anti-government extremism for what it is — before libertarians throw America overboard and render us all castaways.