A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

I have some strong libertarian leanings, mostly on economics and size/scope of government stuff, and am a big fan of localism so I Was intrigued when I saw A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (And Some Bears) by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling on NetGalley.

I mean, it sounds like a pretty interesting story, right?

Once upon a time, a group of libertarians got together and hatched the Free Town Project, a plan to take over an American town and completely eliminate its government. In 2004, they set their sights on Grafton, NH, a barely populated settlement with one paved road.

When they descended on Grafton, public funding for pretty much everything shrank: the fire department, the library, the schoolhouse. State and federal laws became meek suggestions, scarcely heard in the town’s thick wilderness.

The anything-goes atmosphere soon caught the attention of Grafton’s neighbors: the bears. Freedom-loving citizens ignored hunting laws and regulations on food disposal. They built a tent city in an effort to get off the grid. The bears smelled food and opportunity.

It turned out to be another book I would give 3.5 stars. The kind of book that makes you pause of a moment when you are reviewing it on Goodreads. You know, did you “enjoy it” or “really enjoy it?” I was somewhere in between I guess.

A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear is a somewhat rambling portrait of small town New Hampshire through the lens of a group of libertarians seeking very limited government/interference and the habits of bears. In the style of narrative nonfiction, the author seeks to give the reader the feel of the people and communities while offering insight through history, science and even literature. It doesn’t take sides per se and offers a rather balanced perspective; letting the people and events speak for themselves for the most part. Although, he clearly prefers the bears…

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On Thinking for Self – Leonard E. Reed

A conversation on Twitter prompted me to think about the dozens of books on conservatism I have and further to actually pull some of them off the shelf.  This in turn induced in me both despair and desire.  Despair at the time it would take to even make a dent in this collection but also a desire to dive into this sea of knowledge in the hopes of rekindling the love and wonder I had in college and grad school.

All of this by way of introduction to why I stumbled on Accent on the Right by Leonard E. Reed (famous for the essay I, Pencil and for founding the Foundation for Economic Education) and decided to finally read the slim volume.  I did so today and found it an odd but still insightful libertarian essay on freedom, progress and persuasion.

There was a chapter, On Thinking for Self, however, that I thought was worth sharing.

Reed starts with, to him at the time, a frightening thought:

What a fearful thought-if this situation is general: a nation of people the vast majority of whom do no thinking for themselves in the area political economy! Positions on matters of the deepest social import formed from nothing more profound than radio, TV, and newspaper commentaries, or casual, off-the-cuff opinions, or the outpourings of popularity seekers!

Reed than explores the impact of such a climate on politics:

Assume a people who do no thinking for themselves.  Theirs is a stunted skepticism.  Such people only react and are easy prey of the cliche, the plausibility, the shallow promise, the lie.  Emotional appeals, and petty words are their only guidelines. The market is made up of no-thinks. Statesmen-men of integrity and intellectual stature-are hopelessly out of demand.  When this is the situation, such statesmen will not be found among the politically active.

And who may we expect to respond to a market where thinking for self is absent?  Charlatans! Word mongers! Power seekers! Deception artists! They come out of their obscurity as termites out of a rotten stump; the worst rise to the political top.  And when our only choice is “the lesser of two evils,” voting is a sham.

[…]

When thinking for self is declining, more charlatans and fewer statesmen will vie for office.  Look at the political horizon to learn what the thinking is, just as you look at a thermometer to learn what the temperature is.  So blame not the political opportunists for the state of the nation.  Our failure to think for ourselves put them there-indeed, brought them into being. For we are the market; they are but the reflections!

An interesting fact intrudes itself into this analysis: approximately 50 percent of those who do not think for themselves are furious with what they see on the political horizon-which is but their own reflections! And to assuage their discontent they exert vigorous effort to change the reflections from Republican to Democrat, or vice versa.  As should be expected, they get no more for their pains than new face making mentalities remarkably similar to those unseated. It cannot be otherwise.

I will leave it to the reader whether any of this is applicable to our time…

John Tomasi on a libertarian approach to social justice

Today’s edition of Coffee and Markets, covers a subject of particular interest to me.  Pejman Yousefzadeh and myself were joined by John Tomasi to discuss his book Free Market Fairness, which makes the argument for a libertarian approach to social justice.

Despite its seemingly philosophical and analytical nature, this is a subject of some importance in my mind.  The Right simply must find better ways to address concerns about justice and fairness – mere reactionary impulses won’t work.

Listen to the podcast here.