Can a Libertarian Free City Take Root and Flourish in Asia?
Commentary From Your Libertarian Opinionizer
Libertarian seasteading, free republic, micronation, new country and new city projects have been attempted for many years with little to show for the various efforts. The latest is Mu Aye Pu in the Karen people’s homeland in Burma.
An article from Liberty International describes a desire by libertarians to build “A New Free City Near Thailand” on the Burmese side of the two country’s border river. The current population is about 300 but according to Kurt Hanson, article author and Karen Enterprises CCO, “our planned community will be home to 100,000 people.”
YOUR LIBERTARIAN OPINIONIZER’S PICK: Few people know that thousands of people have chosen to live in stateless societies for some two thousand years in Asia. Billed as an “anarchist history” the author describes an alternative civilization in a Europe-sized area of Asia called Zomia that doesn’t include slavery, conscription, taxes, forced labor, epidemics, and warfare.
While few people will want to live as these people live this book nonetheless proves that stateless societies are real and sustainable while our own “modern” societies are the result of continual hate, mass slaughter, oppression and deceit.
The Karen (pronounced ka-RAN) settled in Eastern Burma (name changed to Myanmmar by the ruthless military dictatorship in 1989) some 1,000 years ago after migrating from Mongolia. They chose to remain a stateless society and most still are today.
The Karen are not a homogenous tribe but comprise several different ethnic groups. Only a minority of the total Karen population live within the political borders of the Karen State in Burma which was established in 1952 (and renamed Kayin State in 1989). They have been fighting for independence from Burma since 1949. The majority of the Karen, such as those in the village of Mu Aye Pu near the Thai border, live outside of any state control.
Villagescape vs Cityscape
The “New Free City” of Mu Aye Pu is envisioned as a self-contained entity “with all utilities sourced on site. The operating system for the community will be like that of a resort hotel where residents will be treated as valued customers.” Happily it will be surrounded by farmland, making the area virtually self-supporting.
What puts Mu Aye Pu into the libertarian category are such concepts as public services provided through free market enterprises without taxation, no police force but rather “Settling differences creatively by means that do not include resorting to physical force” and “A competitive market free of any coercive restraints on trade.”
Besides attracting major outside financing the biggest problem this New City Project faces is the off-again-on-again warfare across the river in Burma, now in its 60th year, where the government forces are accused of perpetuating a war of genocide while the Karen people fight primarily in self-defense. It’s misnamed as “the longest lasting civil war in history” since the Karen don’t want to control Burma but just want to be left alone, which makes it a war for independence for them rather than a “civil war.”
YOUR LIBERTARIAN OPINIONIZER’S PICK #2: The Karen Revolution is not a “civil war” but a struggle for self-determination against “the infamous military regime of Burma.” This is an academic work that digs deep into the sociological soul of these people during decades of ethnic cleansing.
The author notes “My life as a sociologist is dedicated to peoples seeking a democratic path toward liberation. This perspective emerged during my stay with the Karen in Kawthoolei and my subsequent exploration of pro-democracy movements in Southeast Asia.”
Ecology vs Economy
Another problem will be pressure from deep hardcore environmentalists unlikely to entertain any compromise between maintaining a pristine natural landscape and human development.
But there’s an even bigger problem. In the process of bragging up the area for potential investors the Karen Enterprises website spills the beans:
“The Karen area is rich in antimony, coal, gold, manganese, silver, tin, tungsten, zinc, among others. The Karen area also has diamonds and shale oil. Gold is being mined in the Baw Lu stream that flows into the Tenasserim River in southern Burma.”
This is why the war will never really end. One can practically see the power-and-wealth-grabbing ruling Burmese and Thai classes rubbing their itching palms together. Neither will ever let the Karen regions voluntarily become independent for the oldest of age-old reasons: Wealth extraction by the ruling classes.
But there is good news as well. According to a March 2017 article in Karen News the Japanese government and the nonprofit Nippon Foundation have poured US$10 million into a Karen State Rehabilitation Programme to rebuild homes, schools, clinics, bridges and wells with even more planned for the future.
But no mention was made of helping the stateless Karen people, and that’s where Liberty International and Karen Enterprises come in. It means that building Mu Aye Pu into a free city isn’t just about a market-based economy; it’s about all forms of human freedom from the psychopathic despots who have ruled all of us since the beginnings of the human race.
Whether the “New Free City” project ever comes to fruition or not – it’s still in the pipe dream stage – it would be the perfect opportunity for libertarians to silence their critics who insist that libertarianism doesn’t care about poor people, doesn’t care about the environment, characterizes the philosophy as “I got mine so screw you” and in any case “doesn’t work.”
Capitalism vs Corporatism
Too many people, in other words, continue to equate libertarianism with the very crony, coercive, corporatist, bankster, fascistic form of politicized “capitalism” that the United States and most of the developed world lives under today – the very system that libertarians explicitly reject.
What libertarians actually want is an open, laissez-faire, post-statist free society unencumbered by the compulsory authoritarianism that defines every form of government on earth. Understanding this is exactly why every decent human being on the planet should be pulling for the free city of Mu Aye Pu to succeed.
A marketplace that openly offers free choice not only in economic goods and services but in every other form of social and cultural activity as well – based on the non-aggression principle against coercion, intimidation and fraud – can only be rejected by those who yearn to rule over others.
Once this concept of mutually voluntary libertarianism is understood and embraced it would matter little what various individuals or groups call themselves or whether they’re anarchists or collectivists. Live and Let Live allows people of very different persuasions to exist and thrive side by side, just as religions have proven in the United States where Protestant and Catholic churches, synagogues and Mosques and storefront sects exist side by side.
Free city-states and collectivist communes of varying degrees of independence have and do exist around the world. In a non-government, non-statist, laissez-faire free society as envisioned by modern American libertarianism, individuals would be free to determine for themselves how land and the products of that land can be used.
They, not some pompously self-serving dictatorial ideologue, will determine how best to balance the needs of the people actually living there along with the management of the environment and the extraction of natural resources so that all have the opportunity to live as they choose.
Collectivists have as many different definitions for themselves as libertarians. Most insist that individuals can’t own land because land wasn’t “made” by anyone. But that argument is irrelevant. In actual, physical, factual, hardcore reality there is land and there is gravity. People cannot fly in the air or float above the land forever. We have no choice but to live on the land, to live on the planet Earth.
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No matter how some may invoke the need for groups and societies and nation-states the fact is that individuals still, as a matter of reality, live as individual selves, not as groups. There are no human group bodies, group minds, group thoughts, group emotions, group beliefs, group aspirations or group dreams no matter how many individuals agree with one another.
The fundamental baseline of humanity is the individual, not the group. But it should be obvious to those who call themselves collectivists that even those who call themselves individualists gather in cooperative groups as well. The vast majority of human individuals are, after all, social creatures. The defining difference between individualists and most collectivists is voluntary versus coercive social interactions. If all agree that all human interactions should be voluntary, in the same way that all of those religious gathering places are voluntary, a truly free community can and will work.
But only if it’s voluntary.
In the Liberty International article Kurt Hanson, CCO of Karen Enterprises, was asked why he wanted to build such a community at Mu Aye Pu.
“It is my lifelong goal to establish a community where people can live free and happy without state coercion,” he said. “The works of Spencer MacCallum and his theory of the entrepreneurial community have heavily influenced me.”
To very few people’s awareness the Karen people, as previously stated, have freely and voluntarily lived in their stateless societies for a millennium. They are still living that way today, in the 21st century and in their own peaceful and civilized way.
The New Free City of Mu Aye Pu will offer those individuals who want it a different way of life from their traditional village, fishing and farming way of life. Those who don’t want it should obviously be left alone.
When “voluntary” is the keyword everyone of good will should have an interest in the future of Mu-Aye-Pu.