Republic of Minerva

I’ve recently discovered the Republic of Minerva:

The Republic of Minerva was one of the few modern attempts at creating a sovereign micronation on the reclaimed land of an artificial island in 1972. The architect was Las Vegas real estate millionaire and political activist Michael Oliver, who went on to other similar attempts in the following decade. Lithuanian-born Oliver formed a syndicate, the Ocean Life Research Foundation, which allegedly had some $100,000,000 for the project and had offices in New York and London.

They anticipated a libertarian Society with “no taxation, welfare, subsidies, or any form of economic interventionism.” In addition to tourism and fishing, the economy of the new nation would include light industry and other commerce. According to Glen Raphael, “The chief reason that the Minerva project failed was that the libertarians who were involved did not want to fight for their territory.”[1] According to Reason, Minerva has been “more or less reclaimed by the sea”.[2] The site chosen for the Republic was the Minerva Reefs in the Pacific Ocean.

So, a libertarian millionaire hauls in some sand and builds a tower and then declares the Sovereign Republic of Minerva as existing on the island, and also minted some silver coins. That’s all great. I love the enthusiasm.

Of course, sovereignty is not simply a matter of declaring oneself sovereign. Sovereignty is proved and defended by military might alone. Well, no sooner does Minerva come into existence than the Kingdom of Tonga, population 100,000, asserts its ownership and defends it with force. That is the end of Minerva, until another group of Americans again attempt to take the reef in 1985 and are forced off.

I post this, because many Libertarians envision some Utopia where each man can be a sovereign, having no evil parasitic government to rule over him. Minerva is a modern example of what will happen. A larger, more organized group will simply revoke your sovereignty, unless you can muster the military might to defend it. If you’re one man, then two men can revoke your sovereignty, so single men will organize into groups of men, because larger groups have competitive advantages. The real world doesn’t care about your Non-Aggression Principle. If you want to build a polity on top of the NAP, then you’ll need to have the military might to defend that polity. In the process of organizing your military, oops, I mean private defense contractors, you’ll need to pay for that defense and you’ll end up doing that by imposing taxes, oops, I mean involuntary contributions from everyone in the polity – they have to be involuntary or some might be tempted to skip out on their fair share of the costs. Those darn free-riders are everywhere. Sure, maybe every man has a rifle in your Libertopia and will fight to defend it, but it seems pretty likely that they will be out-competed by polities which have taken advantage of specialization to allow some of their polity to focus on science, or farming, while others focus on defense, funded by involuntary contributions. Maybe after your top scientist gets killed defending a tomato field in a border skirmish you might see the wisdom of this specialization. Those contributions will probably be the largest for the most profitable members and groups who have the most to lose from a military defeat, and lower for the guy who cleans the toilets. Hmm, that sounds quite a bit like a progressive tax system to me. Actually, when you think about the organization of the entities and the existential imperative to defend those entities, then what you end up getting looks identical in practice to a government.

It’s almost as if those stupid old white guys you read about in dusty old books didn’t organize into societies with governments because they were stupid and old and white, but because they had to if they wanted to have a chance at competing with other organized groups. This isn’t to say that there aren’t many great insights to Libertarianism, there are many, but certain things seem to elude Libertarians, such as the necessity of banding together in groups for survival and the concomitant necessity of ensuring the survival of that group through violence and the institutions necessary to carry out those survival functions. The Libertarian Utopia organized around the NAP, with no organized systems of violence used to redirect resources from productive activities into defense (disallowing free-riding), is not going to happen, and not because of stupid old white guys who just can’t see your vision, but because it can’t.


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