The only way to combat totalitarianism in any form is to build parallel structures or an island of safety. Are Free Cities an alternative?
Disclaimer: The following article, republished by the Foundation, was written by an external author. The opinions expressed in it do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Foundation or its members.
Hand on heart: If the totalitarian winds, which have lately become noticeable to everyone with the massive corona measures, stays and gets stronger again: What will you do then?
Let’s think ahead for a moment: Your CO2 account is in the red, your vaccination status still only shows four shots, on social media you have long since been deleted and your neighbors, friends and colleagues still believe they are living in the best of all worlds, even if they all can only move 15 minutes away from their residential prison converted to a “smart city” and have to eat insects. When all change has failed in the here and now, perhaps the only option left is to start over, where that is still possible. Provided that one can still get away.
Escape from the Republic 2.0
There are many ways of resisting totalitarian systems. The most successful was the establishment of parallel structures in times of Soviet communism in countries like Czechoslovakia, Poland or Romania. If one cannot fight the system politically and does wish to try to wield power, the only option is to build one’s own little world through parallel markets, educational opportunities, cultural institutions, in order to survive as a human being. In the end, the tender little plants of parallel structures were the network of resistance that first infiltrated Soviet communism from within and then destroyed it. Whoever establishes parallel structures enters the competition for the best and freest life. And, in addition, by their own example, they shine the light along the way into the future.
To learn about these examples, I traveled to Prague last fall. There, a conference called “Liberty in Our Lifetime” was held, organized by the Free Cities Foundation, which is headed by entrepreneur Titus Gebel. While in Czechoslovakia in the 1970s members of a punk band began to exemplify the idea of islands of freedom in a sea of oppression and made it strong, today it is libertarian-conservative forces that are developing it further.
They, too, do not want to compete with the state for power, but to live their own freedom. But not on islands of freedom within the system, but outside it. They seek cooperation with states in order to negotiate autonomy for themselves in an area, which will be governed by contracts – and then to exercise the first human right of all, namely the “right to be left alone,” as Roland Baader once put it. Several of these projects are now active, and new ones are being set up. For example, the establishment of one type of special economic zone has been negotiated with Honduras, which is administered largely autonomously. Here, state functions such as the basic supply of electricity and water are provided by the private sector; in start-up parlance, one could speak of “governance as a service.” When state structures begin to prioritize their own self-preservation over than service to the citizen, such a perverse incentive structure often ends in oppression, redistribution and corruption. One of the last options for the freedom-loving citizen is then “Escape from the Republic 2.0.”
To be sure, this process of seeking private autonomy does not always go entirely smoothly. A contract with a foreign state is only as good as the trustworthiness of the contracting party. If the government changes, the (political) business basis can change and the contractually negotiated autonomy can be endangered. Arguably, there is no other way to learn in this area than through trial and error. However, There is great appeal in the idea of taking things into one’s own hands and leading by example. Only in an open idea space can creativity emerge and an answer be found to the question: What other life is possible?
A Glimpse of the Future
At the Prague conference, one can sense a whiff of the future, precisely because people are gathered here who are active outside of the usual pigeonholes of thought. Why not floating cities on the open sea? Or citizens’ cooperatives that revive abandoned villages? Or why not sail around the world as a permanent globetrotter and have the whole world as your “residence”? For those who find the existing alternatives too business-oriented, culturally barren or artificial, here at least they have the opportunity to create something new and make it better. The models are already there, after all, thanks to the new settlers of Libertopia.
Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. Even the best army in the world can do nothing against such an idea, as Victor Hugo already knew. We live in times of a strange asynchrony. While all the possibilities for building parallel structures are already there, what is currently lacking above all is the awareness that we need them at all. So man has the tools of freedom already in front of him, but does not know how to use them and is only moderately motivated as long as the immobilization by medial narcotics still works.
The Power of the Fork
The challenge today is not that we are facing overtly repressive structures but covertly manipulative structures. While the former kind used to brutally crush the ideas of freedom and thereby furthered rebellion, the latter try to nip them in the bud. Unfortunately, this is still too successful through all forms of indoctrination, sedation, or apathy spreading. There can be no call to self-empowerment from outside. Those who live to obey will always find a reason to do so, enjoying the comfort of the status quo.
Great ideas are never comfortable. Neither for those who feel provoked by them, nor for those who carry them out. This knowledge unites heretics, dissidents, scientists, artists and inventors alike. However, all these pioneers are also united by the knowledge that the greatest enemy of the status quo is the alternative of something better. Great developments often emerged from a fork. A prime example of forking is blockchain technology, where forking is a core part of the design. But forking can work for any existing structure, whether the monetary system through Bitcoin & Co., existing business sectors with gatekeepers, the logistics industry, or notaries’ offices as monopolies of authentication. New ideas can also be “forkable” by design. Instead of defending what exists tooth and nail, one embraces the best alternative on the basis of merit. Just as the printing press once undermined the church’s monopoly on knowledge, new community ideas can break the state’s monopoly on power. Technology and decentralization are power-sharing tools par excellence.
The great challenge we face in our lives is to preserve the idea of freedom into the future with the means available to us, on whichever lifeboat we find ourselves. At their core, all totalitarian systems always want the same thing: to destroy the idea of an option B. When we take the path of new alternatives, we take the path of the greatest possible and most effective resistance.
This blog post is a translated version of an article originally published in German on Freischwebende Intelligenz. Visit the blog for more content.
Translated from German by Juan D. Estevez.