Free State Project

The Benedict Option Meets the Free State Project

Separatism, pluralism, tolerance, and liberty

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It was either this or a picture of Benedict Cumberbatch.

For several years now, the conservative writer Rod Dreher has been calling for something he calls the Benedict Option, in which cultural traditionalists focus less on trying to remold the federal government or other mass institutions and instead "concentrate on building local forms of community within which to live out their beliefs." At some point he noticed the Free State Project, which aims to bring libertarians to New Hampshire and enhance the area's antistatist instincts. This struck him "as a libertarian version of the Benedict Option."

So he sat down for a conversation with Free State Project founder Jason Sorens, and they compared and contrasted their two exercises in applied pluralism. The American Conservative has published their dialogue, and it makes for interesting reading. Here's an excerpt:

RD: I'm working on a book about the Benedict Option now and meeting people from all over who are engaged in the kind of community-building you're talking about, but in an orthodox Christian vein. For Ben Op Christians, we must live in the world, but in order to live in the world as Christians, and to be for the world what our faith tells us we must be, salt and light, we have to live in a different way.

JS:…In the Free State Project, we're united by a common political philosophy but not necessarily a common morality. Trusting that your fellows will respect your rights is an essential prerequisite for association, but it's not a sufficient condition. As a result, the "Porcupine community"—after our logo, we use the term "Porcupines" or just "Porcs" for Free Staters who have moved and local liberty lovers who may not ever have signed up for the FSP—subdivides into various subcultures and smaller communities….

There's a certain tolerance that goes along with this polycentricity. Orthodox Christians go to political or social events organized by polyamorous atheists, and vice versa—not that tolerance implies acceptance. You know that you'll be working alongside people in one area while disagreeing with—and even not wanting to associate with—them in some other area, and so you learn how to get along and support each other.

You can read the rest here, and you can see my review of an earlier Dreher book here.

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  2. Orthodox Christians go to political or social events organized by polyamorous atheists, and vice versa?not that tolerance implies acceptance. You know that you’ll be working alongside people in one area while disagreeing with?and even not wanting to associate with?them in some other area, and so you learn how to get along and support each other.

    How droll.

    Fuck that, let’s be divisive. Principals, not principles.

    1. Tolerance is for pussies.

    2. I think we should differentiate between pluralism and plural insularism. True pluralism implies an intermixing of differing sub-cultures and moralities on a daily basis. This is what I envision a cosmotarian society to be like. Different neighborhoods have different sub-cultures, but they all mix at the local mall.

      In constrast, we have plural insularism, which is more the ideal society for the yokeltarians. This implies more isolated communities that share a common culture and ideology. The mixing with neighboring communities is more limited and may only be undertaken by the merchant class that moves goods and services from one community to another. Most religious sects tend toward this model (Mormons are an exception).

      Of course, both are compatible with libertarianism as long as associations are kept voluntary.

      1. True pluralism implies an intermixing of differing sub-cultures and moralities on a daily basis. This is what I envision a cosmotarian society to be like.

        Leaving aside that this is an entirely non-standard definition of pluralism, which implies peaceful coexistence but not necessarily cooperation or compromise, since the “cosmo” and “yokel” terms are actually without any meaning whatsoever it’s basically trying to deduce how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. But the people usually associated with the “cosmo” label – the Gillespies and Welches, say – live in a far more ideologically, culturally, and racially homogeneous bubble than nearly anyone in the country, including flyover country. Academia and politics is like Bob’s Country Bunker from the Blues Brothers where they play both kinds of music, country and western. And presuming we can take Gillespie and Welch as representatives of “cosmotarian”ism, it’s telling that criminalizing non-association is considered a helpful, if not entirely ideal, component of this ostensibly pluralist Utopia.

  3. Community-level autonomy is probably the best way to have things be run, as we would gain the ability to live where we want and see the consequences of a lived life in a certain community prior to committing. If Christianity or polyamory have claims about what their lifestyles should lead to, let’s see how that looks in practice — something that both the Christian and the polyamorist should have no problem with, in principle.

    1. Unfortunately the feds scope continues to expand pretty much unchecked.

    2. The Phyle option?

    3. In practice, it could end up looking like an HOA writ large.

  4. Couldn’t this be called the Amish Option? Hutterite?

    I think you can find aspects of it in Agorism as well, if there are any of them left.

    1. The Amish have an advantage – the feds don’t think they’re threatening.

      So they get to keep their cute, quaint lifestyle free of interference. So far.

      I don’t think that a community of libertarians and/or conservative Christians would get a similar benign neglect.

      On the contrary, the feds would be all up in their faces trying to interfere with the community.

      1. The Amish were not treated with benign neglect. They fought in court about mandatory SS, military service and when CPS had their little private war with the Amish, they fought like hell.

        The Amish have their lifestyle because they were willing to fight to protect it from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. How ironic is that, eh?

        1. OK, that’s a good sign, then.

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  6. I’d distinguish the Free State Project in that it’s not trying to build a community so much as “clear the ground” of intrusive, overreaching government so that whoever wants to build a community can do so. That’s the distinguishing characteristic of libertarianism that I personally try hardest to market: It’s not purporting to be an ideal way to live — it’s trying to protect individuals’ freedom to live in the way they consider ideal.

  7. I thought the Benedict Option was attacking Canada, ruling Philadelphia, then turning traitor to back the British because of your pretty Tory wife….

  8. For several years now, the conservative writer Rod Dreher has been calling for something he calls the Benedict Option, in which cultural traditionalists focus less on trying to remold the federal government or other mass institutions and instead “concentrate on building local forms of community within which to live out their beliefs.”

    We’re fresh out of continents on which to launch a Massachusetts Bay Colony 2.0 in the modern world.

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  12. I hate it when people discuss morality without clarifying if they mean subjective or objective.

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