By Beth Cody
In 2012, when I published “LOOKING BACKWARD: 2162-2012: A View from a Future Libertarian Republic,” I had been interested in small-government libertarian ideas for nearly a decade, but was only just beginning to understand that we might not really need any government at all.
My changing views, and the story of how I came to write my book, are actually the story of my encountering several books written by others.
Some background: I grew up in Ames, Iowa, the daughter of a geology professor and a botanist, and I progressed through the political spectrum over time: as an undergraduate music student, I started out with liberal/progressive leanings and voted for Bill Clinton; later, as a graduate student in economics, and then as a financial analyst, I became more conservative and voted Republican. But after buying my small business in 2000, I began to wonder if either party got it right.
Before the birth of my first child in 2003, I became interested in our dysfunctional educational system, and read several books along the lines of “why Johnny can’t read”. Then, in a thrift store I stumbled across a used copy of Sheldon Richman’s book, SEPARATING SCHOOL AND STATE, and it was like a light bulb went on above my head, like in the cartoons. That was the beginning of my understanding that we don’t need government in order to get things done. (It also led to my decision to homeschool my two children.)
By 2005, I was firmly a libertarian, writing monthly op-eds for the local newspaper in Iowa City. As the recession hit in 2008, my growing unease with government regulations and spending led me to begin to speculate what would happen if the U.S. government ever “ran out” of money. It was around this time that mainstream publications such as the WALL STREET JOURNAL began to publish occasional articles about the idea of states seceding or the breaking apart of the U.S. – a forbidden topic in polite society until then.
It was also around 2008 that my book-collecting father gave me a 1920s copy of Edward Bellamy’s 1887 book, LOOKING BACKWARD FROM 2000 TO 1887. The novel recounts the story of a Boston aristocrat who enters a hypnotic trance in 1887 and wakes up in the year 2000 to find a socialist-utopian world in which all of the problems of the 19th century have been solved. Poverty has been eliminated; everyone is employed by the government, assigned work for which they are fitted, and retires at age forty-five. Every person receives the same income and distribution of goods, eats together in common dining halls, and children are cared for in government-run centers so women are free to work.
Bellamy’s book was hugely popular and influential at the time of its publication (the third-best seller after UNCLE TOM’S CABIN and BEN-HUR: A TALE OF THE CHRIST). It inspired over 150 local “Bellamy Clubs” for discussion and promotion of the author’s Marxist ideas, as well as several utopian communities.
Surprisingly, I found myself attracted by the story’s hopeful, optimistic view of the future and almost felt sadness that such miracles had not come to pass, despite hindsight from the spectacular failures and mass graves of communism in the 20th century.
Then I wondered if a similar libertarian vision of society had ever been published? Surely someone must have written a fictional work describing how a limited-government society could work?
Not the dog-eat-dog, sinister corporation-controlled dystopian worlds imagined by those who do not understand the benefits of competitive markets governed by limited laws, but the world of prosperity and limited – or no – government coercion that most libertarians strive toward.
Sadly, I was unable to find any such fictional imagining. So I set out to write one, loosely modeled on Bellamy’s story. It took me more than two years to complete.
In my book, a progressive professor, rightly concerned with the problems facing the U.S. in 2012 – poverty, bad schools, endless wars and corruption of democracy by special interests – believes that government could fix these ills, if only government could do more.
But following a fluke accident, he awakens after 150 years in a new nation that has largely resolved these issues – by government doing less. He learns what caused the Decline and Fall of the former United States and how multiple new republics were formed. He wakes up in the Free States of America, a nation of drastically limited government, free markets, civil liberties, and widely shared prosperity.
During the period I worked on my book, I came across Linda and Morris Tannehill’s 1970 book, THE MARKET FOR LIBERTY, which describes how an anarcho-capitalist society could function. While I was not immediately convinced that we could do entirely without government, I began to understand that we could get along with much less of it than I had previously imagined. And as my views continued to evolve, government seemed less and less necessary as I continued to think and write my book. Toward the end of my novel, I hint at this growing awareness by describing a region of the Free States of America experimenting with no-government, implying that the limited-government FSA might be only a stop on the journey to even greater freedom from coercion.
Do I think that things might happen as I wrote in my book? The United States of America will almost certainly break apart at some point, perhaps before 2050. It has become increasingly clear to me that the U.S. cannot continue in its current iteration; it’s just not possible to get 300 million people to agree on so many things – and an increasingly centralized federal government means that we must vote to decide more and more things together, instead of deciding them individually. The result is increasing unhappiness with political results, and decreasing trust in government. This is a good thing for voluntaryists. The rancor and hatred inspired by the results of our last presidential election show that it’s merely a matter of time until the idea of separation becomes acceptable in the mainstream.
Once the U.S. has separated into multiple regions, most of the regions probably will become European-style socialist nations or U.S.-style “socialist-light” nations (and possibly some could descend into dictatorships).
But perhaps one region could become less coercive if enough Americans who appreciate the liberty and prosperity that strictly limited government fosters will congregate there. The most socialist Americans will choose to live in the socialist regions, which will allow freedom-loving Americans to institute more limits on their own government. While the result would not be the completely non-coercive society that voluntaryists hope for, it could be a big step in that direction.
And once government no longer controls education, people will be more likely to learn about the dangers posed by coercive government. They will be free to try new ways of helping others, and will be able to see the effectiveness of peaceful, voluntary efforts. This is the environment in which voluntaryism can grow. This is my hope, at any rate.
I don’t know if many people will ever read my book, but I hope that it might eventually influence a few readers, the way the three above-mentioned books have influenced me.