Blogs > Liberty and Power > Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery They Say

Jun 9, 2004 9:00 am

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery They Say

Courtesy of Andrew Sullivan, I found this story on a group of fundamentalist Christians who are trying to get 12,000 followers to move to South Carolina in order to change the political face of the state and eventually secede, creating their own little Christian country.  (Do they have enough literary sense, and too little sense of irony, to name it Gilead?) Two quick comments:

1.  Reading this story is a good reminder of what some folks on the Christian Right really think about how the world should be.  Gays, alcoholics, fornicators, and secular humanists beware:

"Well on one hand I kinda favor a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy. But should homosexuals speak up, they should be deported, sanctioned, or held in jail," said one person, discussing whether their new "country" should endorse or permit lifestyles they believe go against biblical teachings.

Other visitors had ideas on what laws might be applicable in their new South Carolina home. "No alcohol sold on Sundays at all. All entries into the town would be policed with random checks for alcohol abuse, breathalyzers mandatory. No places of business open on Sundays. All schools, public, private or otherwise would teach creation, have the Ten commandments placed and say prayer before classes start. No landlords allowed to rent to couples just living together ... Abortion would not be legal in any circumstance."

As the news report is careful to note, these sort of views were not uniform among those discussing this idea, but those folks are out there.  When I teach first-year students how to use and evaluate Web sources when doing research, I tell them that because they can only know so much about who's behind a website, they should always assume the worst until they have evidence for the better.  That's my attitude about the Christian Right as well, and it's why I've never understood for an instant why libertarians/classical liberals see anything to gain by cultivating relationships with those folks.  (Okay fine, I'll give you school choice, but that's about it.)  When I hear "Christian Right," I'll think of those who want to "deport" gays from their new country until I see convincing evidence to the contrary.

2. As the reporter also notes, this is very similar to the Free State Project where libertarians are moving to New Hampshire in order to remake it in their own image.  One difference is that the Free State folks don't want to secede from the US (yet?), while the Commanders and their Wives do.  Still the parallels are there, and the Free Staters might have been an inspiration.

I've never found the Free Staters' argument the least bit compelling.  As deeply as I care about making the world a better place by making it a more libertarian one, what ultimately matters for creating a meaningful life is one's family, friends, and work.  I'm not about to uproot from a job I love, with co-workers and friends who mean much to me, in order to try to make a political statement of that sort.  I respect those who have made that commitment, but count me out.

It does, however, say something interesting that the Christian Right and radical libertarians both feel so disaffected from American politics and policies that they would contemplate such eerily similar solutions.

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More Comments:

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

I'm not sympathetic to the Free State Project or to secession, but the comparison of the FSP to the SC secession is obviously unfair. The two projects may both agree in respect of their disaffection from the country, but they obviously disagree in the form of prescription they're offering. Your unadorned comparison of the two makes it seem as though the FSP would treat gays, secular humanists, etc. just the way the fundamentalists do. That clearly isn't the case. The "eerie similarity" you've mentioned sits alongside some pretty obvious dissimilarities. To mention the one without the other poisons the well.

Kenneth R Gregg - 6/10/2004

There is more to this, however, and history should give us a good means for interpreting FSP. Nearly a century ago, the political wing of the libertarian movement (Georgists) decided to take over a state to make it a pure limited government and ran platforms, candidates, held rallies and pushed buttons, literature and other pamplets onto literally every citizen in the state. The major financiers of the single tax movement (such as Joseph Fels of Fels-Naptha soap fame)came in with oodles of money and support for all of the georgists coming into the state from all over the county (and Canada).
The upshot of this, come election time, was a complete failure. Not only did none of the candidates win election, not only did none of the legislation proposed pass, but the libertarians were condemned as carpet-baggers and propositions passed making their principal proposals unconstitutional!
The georgists living in the state had to leave in disgrace. The few who stayed were regarded as nutcases, never to be taken seriously again.
If the FSPers ever become successful enough to actually try out their aims, their fate will be the same.
Just a thought.
Just Ken

Steven Horwitz - 6/9/2004

Sorry you read it that way. As a long-time, very committed libertarian, I would never suggest that the particulars of the states they wish to create were in any way related. I don't know how you could even interpret it that way, given my earlier comment about libertarians distancing themselves from the Christian Right.

Oscar Chamberlain - 6/9/2004

I remember a sagebrush rebellion spokesperson arguing that large parts of the west should be national sacrifice zones for environmentally dreadful projects. Perhaps these are related phenomena.