Anarchy in New Hampshire!
The plane was late to leave New York, as usual, so I didn’t land in Manchester, New Hampshire, until 1:00am, and I still had two hours to drive to get to the Porcfest campground. All the lights on the cabins were out when I arrived, and there was no way even to find my room in the dark.
With a sense of exhaustion, and nearing despair over whether I would sleep at all that night, I grabbed my bags and headed in the direction of a bonfire just down a slightly muddy hill. I planted my bags at the foot of the fire and stood there bleary eyed and confused, not knowing anyone here. If no one helped me orient myself, I would have been fine with falling on the ground right there and sleeping until sunrise.
But of course this was Porcfest, a gathering of thousands of the happiest, most helpful, and most community-minded anarchists in the world. Dozens of people were standing around and someone whose name I forget immediately took me on as a project. He led me back up, found out my room number, and used his flashlight to get me to my cabin, welcomed me to the greatest gathering of free minds of on the planet, and bid me goodnight.
The kindness of strangers! But as I discovered the next day, the last day in a week-long celebration of liberty and life in the white mountains of New Hampshire, there are no strangers at Porcfest. Friendship, camaraderie, mutual support, and a happy sense of unity in diversity are the themes everywhere present.
It was my first trip to Porcfest, after many years of having been encouraged to attend. By now the event is legendary. Finally the day arrived. My only great regret is that I was there for only one day. It’s not nearly enough.
The atmosphere is like that of a family reunion but the DNA in this case is human liberty. It is everywhere on display, in the wild diversity of the crowd, in the broad sense of tolerance, in the slogans on signs and shirts, and, most of all, in the determination on the part of everyone to make it work for everyone else — a determination that is at the very heart of the event.
It’s not really possible to gather in this way and manufacture liberty, not in despotic times such as ours (everyone still pays taxes and still obeys the police coming and going), but Porcfest comes as close as one can imagine. A first-time visitor is startled, perhaps, to see people walking around with sidearms, and yet not feeling even slightly threatened by their presence. There were huge signs hanging there and there with liberty-minded slogans, and a fantastic array of vendors selling food, clothing, jewelry, and services such as tattooing and chiropracty.
If there is any single uniting theme at this event, it is the moral conviction of the inviolability of person and property. I decided to test this the morning of my first day. I had purchased a number of items from vendors, and when I went back to my room, I found the door locked and I had no key. I left my stuff at the foot of the door, in plain view in a heavily trafficked area, and went back to the grounds, not returning until later than night, this time with key in hand. Sure enough — and I really had no doubts about the result of this experiment — everything was just as I had left it.
Porcfest has matured into something absolutely spectacular, and filled with joy. More than any other event, this one has sought to take the idea of liberty out of the realm of theory and put it into practice. Nor is it politics as such. There were no tedious meetings about bylaws or elections over who was going to be in charge of what. There were no squabbles about where the food was going to come from. The clarity of conviction over what is mine and what is thine led to a beautiful peace.
I’ve come to admire the spirit and confidence behind this experiment. It reminds me of late 19th century versions of utopian communities — or the more obvious comparison with Woodstock — but with a big difference. The theme here is not some fluff-headed notion of unity of religion or communism. It is an intense application of all the things that have always made life grand: property rights, exchange, voluntarism, and mutual agreement. People come here this week just to experience a slight glimpse of what is possible when society is organized along these lines.
A real highlight of the day for me was performing in a play directed by Robert Anthony Peters. He chose an early work by Ayn Rand, “The Night of January 16th.” I played the prosecuting attorney — a classic case of the Randian villain. I had never read the play before but you can find in this 1933 work all the archetypes familiar to students of Rand’s world. It pits values against values: materialism, achievement, and unapologetic embrace of life (and sex) vs. mediocrity, fake religious piety, and collectivist sentimentalism.
The play is unpolished in many ways, and uncomfortably raw in its ideological posturing, almost to the point of being kitsch, but still an absolute delight to read through. Even in her early work, you find this broad ambition not just to tell a good story but to present a choice of philosophical outlook for humanity itself. Though the entire play is set in a courtroom, you gradually discover that it is the human race that is on trial, and the audience is invited to render the verdict.
The context in which this play was written and performed is easily lost on modern readers. This was 1933, a year of real desperation for many urban women who had only recently entered the professional workforce. The raging Great Depression made them among the first victims of the downturn, and popular movies and fiction made their plight in the city a common trope. They survived through sexual prowess, as the popular wisdom suggested, doing what was necessary to survive this economic winter.
All the justifications for the seeming sexual domination between boss and secretary here have to be read in this light. Rand’s real point is to elicit sympathy for the working-class survivor over the entitled aristocratic heiress who accuses her of murder. This theme of celebrating individual merit over social caste returns again in Atlas Shrugged in full force.
I found myself marveling that the clarity of conviction behind Rand’s personal philosophy, and just how persistent it was throughout her works. At the same time, critics have often observed the discomforting dearth of emotional normalcy in Rand’s fictional characters in how they can seem constructed solely for the purposes of ideological exhibitionism.
I was not the only one struck by the stark contrast between Rand’s scripted world and the real world of Porcfest, where the absence of philosophical affectation and the presence of the multifarious normalcies of the campers and attendees are the most wonderful features of the community spontaneously gathered here for a week. Anarchy can work, even when people have declined to agree on anything other than the basic right to be left alone.
The length of the play approached two hours, but so many people at Porcfest stayed the entire time. Apparently this was the first staging of any play at this event. I hope there is one next year too, and perhaps it will be by Oscar Wilde, hint hint.
Also speaking the day I was there was the great and brilliant Patrick Byrne, CEO of Overstock.com. His company was the first public company in the consumer retail market to embrace Bitcoin as a means of payment. His visionary decision paid off well for the company.
In a former life, Bryne was a professor of philosophy, and his philosophical chops were on display in the talk he delivered. He traced the idea of liberty from the late middle ages through modern times, illustrating the ways in which good economics and liberal theory made its way from Spain to Italy to Scotland to the United States, and gave an excellent lesson in the history of ideas from the many hundreds gathered. This is not exactly the talk one might expect from a corporate CEO!
His closing conviction that cryptocurrency represents the future of liberty was cheered and cheered by all.
There’s been a tremendous amount of talk on the interwebs these days about division, rancor, and factionalism in the libertarian world. No surprise there. It has always been so, and for decades really. We care about ideas as the pith of life itself and this can lead to some intense intellectual and personal struggle. So where was the factionalism and rancor at Porcfest? I didn’t see it anywhere. This was the happiest family of 2,000-plus people I could imagine. So many personal connections were made and so many new relationships were solidified. It was harmony all the way through, despite every impression given by online flame wars.
Oh, and it was a special treat for me to meet so many members of Liberty.me at this event. We felt a special bond of course, as members of the cloud-based Porcfest that is growing by the day.
What does this conference mean for the future of liberty? It means everything. A people who are willing to walk the walk — not just leave liberty ideas for reading groups and seminars but willing to test them out in real life — are the real energy behind a serious social movement that can make a difference in the course of world affairs.
The ideas that cause Porcfest to happen are the same ones that are challenging despots and intrusive regimes all over the world today. As I said in my own speech, the paradigm shift toward human liberty is maturing at the same time the old 20th century model of command and control is decaying at all levels and all over the world.
The mainstream might be be tempted to dismiss Porcfest as a gathering of eccentrics, or perhaps extremists, but it only takes one day at this event to see that something much more substantial is taking place. At Porcfest, we see the future, and it is joyful and beautiful.
Read more about liberty events and communities:
The Struggle to Find Peaceful Places (on Liberty.me)
Ideas + Fun + Commerce = FreedomFest (on the upcoming FreedomFest 2014)
The New Libertarianism (on the International Students For Liberty Conference)
Liberty, Charity, and Bitcoin (on the Bitcoin in the Beltway event)
Bitcoin Comes to Wall Street (on the Bitcoin Center in New York City)
The Majesty of Brazil (on the Liberal Forum in Porto Alegre)
The Economics of Life Itself : Beautiful Anarchy is the writing platform of Jeffrey Tucker, in which he covers economics, art, popular culture, and politics from a pro-liberty, anti-state point of view.