Column by Lawrence M. Ludlow.
Exclusive to STR
In February, Sky Conway introduced Libertopia to the anarchists who gather regularly at Café Libertalia in San Diego. I decided to interview him again to explore his concept for the Libertopia weekend (October 21 to 23) a bit further. I gave up on writing a formal interview article, but the following paraphrase is an accurate depiction of what should be a fascinating event.
Q: Why Libertopia? With all of the libertarian conferences, do we really need another?
A: Yes, and we need it for a few good reasons. First, because it is more than just libertarian. It’s voluntaryist and anarchist – bypassing and transcending politics completely. Just as important, it’s more than a conference. It’s a hybrid of festival and conference, and at the same time it goes beyond both by leaving aside the least attractive aspects of each while encouraging a big participatory element. Finally, it’s kind of a model for us and a starting point for a society of the future. It’s a kernel of something that we’ll need more of very soon as coercive institutions begin to implode. And that’s part of the reason why we chose San Diego as our home this year. It’s in the belly of the beast, but in spite of that (or because of it?) it has become a real hub of voluntaryism. In the Hillcrest neighborhood, for example, there’s a place called Café Libertalia, where a group called Mises West studies the Austrian School of economics and free-market anarchism every Monday night. So hold your calendars open for the Libertopia on the weekend of October 21, 22, and 23 at Humphrey’s Half Moon Inn and Suites.
Q: Okay, so what do you mean by “more than just libertarian”?
A: Libertopia is a rejection of politics. Many of us began our libertarian journey by becoming activists in the Libertarian Party or in related efforts to promote a free society. These were all “small-government” or minarchist groups. But many of us continued to evolve, and we often felt left out of these mainstream gatherings. We took the ideas of Murray Rothbard to their logical conclusion – the non-aggression axiom and the concept that “it's my life and no one can own me.” We stopped participating in politics. We became full-blown voluntaryists, agorists, and anarchists – and I mean anarchists in the etymological sense of “no dictator.” Maybe “private-property anarchists” is another way of looking at it. We respect the idea of property – starting with our own bodies and extending it to other things acquired through peaceful, voluntary means. In other words, we engage – as much as we can – in activities that promote the kind of life we cannot find in statism or even minarchism.
Q: But are conventional libertarians our enemies?
I don’t think so. They’re on the same trajectory as voluntaryists, but they haven’t moved as far along the curve yet. I’m a former elected official myself – four terms in Connecticut! But by now, many of us have completely opted out of the whole political thing. We’re interested in hard-core agorism. We can welcome the political activists into our fold and hope that they, too, become infected by the bug of ethical anarchism. On the other hand, Libertopia is a big tent, and we welcome everyone. This includes our brothers and sisters who have become cynical and are looking for answers, and it includes those who are politically active non-libertarians. After all, we all began our journey somewhere, and Libertopia will be a fine start for anyone!
Q: And that brings us to this hybrid business. Is Libertopia a conference, a festival, or participatory art? Umm…and are you just a hippie? I mean, what kind of a name is “Sky Conway” anyway?
A: No, not a hippie, and I even used to be a Republican, but Ronald Reagan betrayed the very concepts that got him elected. But don’t get me wrong about conferences. I like them. They’re great for showcasing the vast talent in our community. And Libertopia will have some of the leading advocates of freedom – Stefan Molyneux, Bill Buppert, Gary Chartier, David Freidman, Angela Keaton, Roderick Long, Jim Peron, Sharon Presley, Sheldon Richman, Butler Shaffer, and many more. But after plenty of feedback from last year, I decided to enhance that whole concept by keeping the presentations short and sweet and including more time for questions and answers and breakout groups to explore issues in greater depth.
Q: But what about the festival idea? How do you go beyond that?
A: First of all, the whole festival thing makes it more participatory, and it opens it up to vendors and lifestyle exploration – much different than a conference. There will be performers on the great Humphrey’s stage. Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay has hosted some of the great musical acts like Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, and Ringo Starr. And now it will play host to our “greats.” It’s a place for celebrating individual dignity that’s free of coercion and state violence. And remember: it’s on private property, and the owners know exactly what we’re all about, and they want us there! And that does not mean we’re going to trash the place. We respect private property, and they know it! But it also means we have peaceful, good hosts that respect us and our desire to share ideas, experiment, discover, innovate, trade, gift, and perform. The weather is always great in San Diego, and that’s a big improvement over the whole Burning Man thing, which is held in a state-controlled desert in the blistering heat of late summer, where you feel the heavy presence of para-military cops lurking in dark costumes with a mindset to match. You could fry an egg on a rock at Burning Man! In contrast, Humphrey’s Half Moon Inn and Suites is a stone’s-throw from the water, and it’s a garden of indoor-outdoor living. The nude beaches (Black’s Beach), parks, fabulous Mexican dining, and zoo are all close by. And the late-October weather is perfect in San Diego, with 70-degree-ish temperatures by day and nights in the 60s. When you add in the participatory art and free zones, where niche groups can gather, it’s going to be quite an experience!
Q: Ah, but what about a symbol to bring it all together in our heads? Ayn Rand had the dollar sign, and we voluntaryists have our black and gold and our letter “A.” What icon can we pin to this event?
A. Oh, we have a symbol, too – an icon that will preside over the whole affair like a god. His name – drum roll! – is Trading Man. His effigy will be the focus of the weekend. He stands for our belief in voluntary trade, the quintessential act that creates a win-win situation for individuals and is beneficial for society. But instead of burning him alive like Joan of Arc as a scapegoat for our sins or incinerating him in pyro-maniacal delight like Burning Man, we’re going reach down deep into our soul of humanist values and auction him off to the highest bidder at the culmination of the weekend. Someone is destined to take home the 2011 Trading Man, and we hope that someday, when we live in a free society, the 2011 Trading Man will be remembered as the talisman of our event – a kind of hope for what can be. So start saving your dollars for the god of trade – and not the kind of trade practiced by the banksters of Wall Street and D.C.!
Q: And that brings us to Libertopia as a kind of kernel of a future society. What do you mean by this?
A: Look, we now have what I think of as a critical mass of agorists out there – hard-core anarcho-voluntaryists who really get it. They reject the entire paradigm of political violence. They understand that initiatory coercion can only lead to bad results, and they don’t want to perpetuate it. They perceive a powerful link between respect for individuals and peace, prosperity, and freedom. Nobody knows how many of us there are, but maybe 20,000 in the United States. And 100,000 throughout the world. We share a vision, and it’s time we started to “live what we are” – as residents of Libertopia. Maybe it’s only a 3-day weekend at this point, but I want Libertopia to grow and evolve into a week-long event – and beyond. It’s time to practice what we preach.
Q: A what would that be?
A: It’s time to begin experimenting with the five principles of Libertopia: (1) peaceful, voluntary actions without coercion; (2) honoring the self as a unique creature endowed with free will and liberty; (3) ruling yourself and being responsible for who you are; (4) having a live-and-let-live approach to others – tolerating different lifestyles and choices; and (5) allowing a spontaneous order to arise by pursing happiness and respecting each other’s sovereignty. Let’s face it: governments are beginning to implode at all levels. They have murdered and taxed and spent their way into fiscal and moral bankruptcy, and they are losing their legitimacy. The incipient free society of Libertopia is just a start, but it’s already available in how we communicate and gather news and opinions, especially on the Internet. The institutions of coercion are on the brink of failure, and there are now enough of us to step in and show people how to do it right – without politics and the violence that goes with it. And that’s why Libertopia is important. We’re the cure for this cancer of statism, and it’s time to feed the cure. The socialists and conservatives have created this giant, ugly, imploding monster of a black hole that can no longer function without stepping all over itself. It’s a mass of contradictions, and the cracks are showing – big time! Just as the U.S.S.R. was here one day and gone the next, the United States and its propped-up Bride-of-Frankenstein corporations and privileged unions are next in line. Institutions based on coercion are inherently self-destructive – whether they are the openly dictatorial kind or the polite, dishonest kind that hide behind hypnotic words like “democracy” and “republic.” They’re collapsing of their own weight and insane laws and self-smothering inertia, and we need to replace them with something different. We need to start practicing what it’s like to live in a free society – even if it’s just for a weekend to begin with. We can build our Libertopia right next to the dystopia that surrounds us, and when the dystopia fails, we – not they – will be the organizing principle of the post-implosion society. We’ll step in, and if we can pull this off, there will be no more tired re-runs of statism. It’s up to the voluntaryists to show what the alternative looks like.
Q: But in San Diego? Let’s see, we have the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and DEA and FBI agents squatting all over and sucking up tax dollars by the truckload. There’s a Marine base at Camp Pendleton and nuclear ships in the harbor. And the local media worship these things. There are companies built from the ground up on surveillance and the military-industrial complex. The mayor of San Diego is a former donut-eating cop who has blessed the high-living unionized government employees. He panders to everything that means big government. I’ve written on this topic myself, calling San Diego the host location of “Sophie’s Choice for Fascists” – here, here, and here.
A: But that’s just it. Even in the belly of the beast, you have places like Café Libertalia and Mises West rising up to civilize the statist barbarians. I’ve come to understand that there are close to 100 hard-core free-market anarchists in the San Diego area. Every week, about 20 of them visit Café Libertalia to discuss Mises and economics. They’ve had tax-ins and debates with socialists. They even monitor cops at driver checkpoints, hold 9/11 Government Blowback Day events, and anti-voting protests that play havoc with election night politics. I understand that a good portion of these anarchists were formerly in the employ of the military. There’s a lesson in that, and I think that Libertopia is the place to find out why it’s happening here of all places.
Q: So tell us a bit more about the amenities of Libertopia. What will you be doing?
A: Before winter rolls in, Libertopia will be a chance to see some great speeches, films, and music. There will be an awards banquet that recognizes three individuals for their lifetime achievements in advancing the ideas of sovereign individuals, peace, freedom, and a voluntary society. We all share a belief in free will, the value of reason, and the great power of love. So let’s share it! It’s going to be three days of lush surroundings, mental (and physical?) stimulation, and a chance to share with people who really get it – the whole voluntary thing. And it’s a chance to live our philosophy if only for a few days. And hey – we got a great room-rate at a four-star resort. It’s only $109 per night! We’re even having an early-bird special for people who want to become “members” of Libertopia. It’s only a fraction of the cost of similar events, and with all that’s going to happen there, make sure to visit the Libertopia website and reserve your place now!