We’ve come a long way in 100 years. We’ve moved from the first terrifying experiment in the use of violence as a universal tool of world order – embodied in the murderous “Great War” — to the point where we are today in the digital world. In fits and starts, we are seeing the gradual emergence of choice as the prevailing system for how we run our lives.
Much of this development we owe to the Internet, a free space that puts a premium on human volition. Where we go and what we do — our social relationships and peer groups and even our sense of nationhood — is extending from our individuality.
The Internet has invited us all to curate our world and make a new life for ourselves that rejects the principle of violence. It’s our emerging utopia.
It’s for this reason that I’m very excited about Liberty.me, the first great experiment in a universal community of engagement, learning, and publishing that is centered on the principle of liberty. It’s not just about learning about the subject of liberty; it is about practicing it.
How does Liberty.me fit with the principles of Ludwig von Mises? It’s helpful to think of it as a new form of nationhood, one based on freedom rather than force.
Mises actually served as an officer in the Austrian army in World War I. He was on the front lines to observe the unfolding of total war for the first time in history, a war in which no one could escape. His experience led him to write his first great book on political economy: Nation, State, and Economy (1919). His main thesis was that governments and especially empire are terrible nation builders. They cause conflict rather than allow society to work out its own system of peaceful human relations.
He knew that time was short. Europe had to embrace a new system. An essential part of that was the free market, the greatest tool for social peace and prosperity ever conceived of by the human mind. But there was more that was needed. Europe also needed a new system of politics that rejected empire, imposition, exploitation, and central planning. He proposed a new system of nations by consent:
“Liberalism knows no conquests, no annexations; just as it is indifferent towards the state itself, so the problem of the size of the state is unimportant to it. It forces no one against his will into the structure of the state. Whoever wants to emigrate is not held back. When a part of the people of the state wants to drop out of the union, liberalism does not hinder it from doing so. Colonies that want to become independent need only do so. The nation as an organic entity can be neither increased nor reduced by changes in states; the world as a whole can neither win nor lose from them.”
He went so far as to propose universal secession:
“No people and no part of a people shall be held against its will in a political association that it does not want.”
Only technical considerations should forestall this principle from being taken to its logical conclusion:
“If it were in any way possible to grant this right of self-determination to every individual person, it would have to be done.”
Again, this was 1919. Imagine if the world had followed Mises’s idea. There would have been no striving for “Greater Germany” that led to European-wide conflict and another and even worse world war. The Soviet Union would have been broken up completely, thereby avoiding 60 more years of ghastly suffering and death. The American imperial impulse would have been curbed. Nations would have still existed of course but only on the principle of voluntarism.
That’s not what happened, and the results were an incredible calamity for the human race.
In the 21st century, we now have an unprecedented opportunity to try out Mises’s idea again. No more empire. No more forced association. No more central planners defining the idea of nationhood or the boundaries of the state for us. In Mises’s idea, the principle of self-determination is primary. And if technology would ever allow for it, this principle should be taken to the individual level.
That doesn’t mean that government is going to embrace this principle. But we as individuals can get in front of trends and embrace it for ourselves.
It was fashionable in 1919 to regard Mises as the last of a dying breed. But they knew him not. This was a man not just before his time, but a century before his time. He saw the possibility of a world in which all our core associations extend from the longing of our individual desires and actions. That world is now technologically possible even if the states of the world are slow to admit and might do anything possible to stop it.
Our frontier for this great experiment in human choice is the digital could itself. Liberty.me puts on display every possibility that is now available to us. There are individual publishing platforms for every user. Fully featured, turn-key websites for everyone! No more getting lost in the thicket of a billion bloggers. You are there with the best writers in the liberty world. Many of the people who write for Mises Canada are here. My own podcast is running on Liberty.me soon.
There are creative ideas to further the cause of secession in your own life. There are nightly classes that are actually easy to log onto and use. The discussion forums, news feeds, book distribution systems, and a complete social network with statuses and friendships — it’s all here.
Why is it a paid system? As an interactive community, it is completely unlike Facebook in which the real customers are the advertisers and you are there to provide them clicks. Liberty.me, in contrast, is about a direct relationship between the website and the community.
Every member has skin in the game so the the community is helpful, friendly, congenial and liberty loving, sans trolls, flames wars, or pop-up advertising.
In other words, this is a massive innovation, the implementation of Mises’s theory of nationhood except in the digital world. It already hosts members from all over the world. This new nation is an experiment to be sure. But so far, the citizens are very happy indeed.
The old idea of nations is a remnant of the age of violence. The new idea of nations is all about human choice. I urge you to check out Liberty.me today.