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But of course, the rising threat from China provoked a strong response here in the U.S., as policymakers massively rethought their assumptions about economic policy and national strategy. The old consensus, in which both parties had agreed that propping up the stock market and real estate values was the top priority, became no longer viable. As we all remember, the second crash of '29 was worse than the first. In the difficult decade that followed, the federal government spearheaded the "New New Deal," which, a century after the original New Deal, once again witnessed the fitfully effective economic and military restructuring of the United States.
Meanwhile, around the world, capitalist prosperity waxed and waned, in response to booms and busts of secular liberalization, followed inevitably by sacred radicalization. From Dubai to Mumbai to Shanghai, unparalleled frenzies of conspicuous consumption were followed by equally conspicuous bonfires of the vanities. The reluctant conclusion: Over time, culture trumps economics, and piety stomps freedom. But fortunately for freedom, new libertarian thinkers have blossomed in recent decades, seeking to liberate humanity from the not-at-all-dead hand of state power. These new thinkers, re-reading Rand, Hayek, Friedman, and others, are determined to learn the sad lessons of history and apply the new hope of technology. And they have reached a few conclusions that we must study closely:
First, true freedom—camouflaged from all-seeing eyes in the sky, hidden even from the all-penetrating Google Grid—can flourish only in a few small and isolated places around the globe, where self-selected populations can gather together as ex-pats and exiles, to live free or die. These places have been mostly small islands, protected by nuclear booby traps, although a few have existed on the poles, or under the sea, or deep underground. Poignantly, one such place was called "Galt's Gulch," named after the place where the capitalist strikers hid out in Rand's Atlas Shrugged. But this time, the strikers were real enough—until, of course, they met their tragic end at the hands of bounty-hunting looters.
So the second lesson: No permanent victories for freedom can be found in this finite physical earth. Hobbes was right: The nation-state—sometimes, the imperial state—is the most effective monopolizer of force, thus the inevitable master of territory.
The third lesson: The true frontier of freedom will have to be elsewhere, not in this physical world as we commonly think of it. Many freedom-seekers have experimented with virtual reality as an escape hatch, or various kinds of nanotechnology. We wish those dematerialized libertarian voyagers well—but, frankly, we don't know what has happened to them.
The fourth lesson is the keeper: A free world is a new world, the farther away, the better. The next significant victory for freedom—a return to Randianism—will be best realized via transportation to somewhere else, off this earth. Flight beats fight, especially when the freedom-fighter is guaranteed to lose to the statists in the end. The Europeans who came to America found liberty in the empty spaces of the New World; the same was true in Australia. It's no accident that North America and Australia have traditionally been among the freest countries in the world. And if they are now less free, in the middle of this grim 21st century, that's because they are increasingly filled up. They have regressed to the regimented condition of the rest of the planet.
As free-market economists said in the last libertarian era, the only true freedom that one has is the power of an alternative—that is, the power to go somewhere else, to go where a man or a woman can breathe free air, even if that air is artificial. And that means outer space—to the moon, Mars, and beyond.
Of course the moon has long been settled by various countries. And Mars and other asteroids have been touched by humans, too, mostly those wearing uniforms and working for various governments and mining collectives. Does that mean that the state has permanently extended its grip there, too? Is freedom finished off-earth, as well as on-earth?
Maybe. But it's easier to stage a freedom revolution in the far pavilions. Just as the mountains of West Virginia were free when the lowlands of Virginia were enslaved, so the periphery is always freer than the core.
Just as the American colonies rebelled from the mother country in 1776, so, too, could the space colonies rebel from this earth. Will it work? Could a space-revolt succeed? There is only one way to find out.
In the meantime, as we hatch our plan for the big breakaway, we might turn to another great libertarian writer from the Rand Era, Robert A. Heinlein. His 1966 novel, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, remains the best handbook for an off-world revolution, leading, in this instance, to a libertarian Luna.
Yes, the moon is a harsh mistress, but the earth is even harsher.
James P. Pinkerton served in the presidential administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He is a Fox News contributor and a fellow at the New America Foundation.