After reading several accounts of the Ephemerisle Festival (for those interested, a more in-depth explanation of the event – and seasteading – can be found here), I’m more convinced than ever that I really need to attend one of these events. As I’ve said earlier, however, I don’t expect any floating cities to launch in my lifetime, and reports from Ephemerisle haven’t done much to change this assessment (The Irish Times‘ take on the conspicuous absence of nautical know-how isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring).
That said, the movement’s impressive groundwork suggests that enthusiasm for seasteading is more than a fad, and the idea of floating communities has, at the very least, provoked some incredibly interesting discussion. But I wonder if all of this enthusiasm is misplaced. My lack of engineering knowledge notwithstanding, the technical barriers to creating sustainable floating cities seem enormous. The political complications arising from seaborne secession also strike me as an important (and under-appreciated) hurdle to seasteading; if floating communities become as subversive as their boosters suggest, I think the likelihood of some two-bit dictator’s navy nipping the project in the bud increases dramatically.
The logic of seasteading, however, remains compelling. Creating a mechanism for persistent, non-theoretical political experimentation strikes me as a very worthy goal. So why not channel all of this energy into reclaiming the states as laboratories of democracy (or libertarianism)? The political barriers to a federalist revival are also immense, but they seem downright trivial compared to the challenges facing prospective seasteaders. I can’t help thinking that it would be easier for libertarians to claim Vermont as their own than to recreate Galt’s Gulch on an abandoned oil platform.
One possible objection is that experimenting within an American political context constrains the scope of potential experiments.* To be perfectly honest, I think this is a feature, not a bug. Whether through dumb luck or wise statesmanship, the West seems to have narrowed the spectrum of acceptable political systems down to variants of democratic capitalism. All that’s left, then, is to further refine the formula through more experimentation. A return to federalism strikes me as the best (and most feasible) way to accomplish this goal.
*One other possible objection is that libertarians have already tried – and failed – to jump-start a federalist revival.