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The Pursuit of Liberty, Final Phase

No Man Is An Island: Starting Your Own Country

by Deuce of Clubs

Away with Systems! Away with a corrupt world! Let us breathe the air of the Enchanted Island.

-- George Meredith

Isla de Encanta! / Me voy! / Me voy! / Me voy!

-- Black Francis

There are no islands any more.

-- Edna St. Vincent Millay

From "I am not a crook" to "Read my lips" to "I didn't inhale"...political hogwash is as deep and wide as the sea. Dope springs eternal in the realm of politics--and that goes for both the elected and the electorate: the former spew idiocy, while most of the latter meekly swallow it.

So how can the rest of us--those who love liberty--escape being endlessly sheared, milked, and plucked by petty-tyrant politicos and squish-head bureaucratic functionaries? If you've been following along with these  political experiments, you know how little hope there is of changing U.S. politics from the inside (See How to Lose an Election). And, as long as we're talking about crushing blows to the human spirit, it looks as though there's no nation on the globe that's any better off than we are in the Freedom From Government Interference and Idiocy department (See Calling All Countries).

Is there any other option? My search seems to indicate that, basically, deserted islands are about the only hope left for those who just want to be left alone. Yet even then you won't be left alone. Sure, you can buy an island--assuming you're as rich as Marlon Brando, and you haven't to all appearances squandered the bulk of your disposable income at Haagen-Dazs. Nevertheless buying an island won't buy you freedom. The sad fact is that though islands are readily available for purchase, sovereignty isn't for sale anywhere in the world--no matter how rich you are. Sovereignty is something nations are willing sell only to other nations. It's like a schoolyard game: paper covers rock, Tahiti covers Brando. Though just barely.

Love It or Leave It?

But don't give up just yet. There's still one last possible way of escape: you could construct an artificial island and build your own nation from scratch. As daunting as that goal sounds, it's exactly what entrepreneur Eric Klien was aiming at when he established The Atlantis Project as the support arm of Oceania, a 100- to 1000-acre man-made, movable Caribbean island located in international waters about fifty miles off the coast of Panama. Orwell fans (or John Hurt fans, for that matter) will recognize "Oceania" as the name of Nineteen Eighty-Four's totalitarian nation. Don't let the name fool you, though--it's meant to be ironic, for Klien's vision of Oceania is not an Orwellian nightmare but a Libertarian dream, promising freedom in spades to the Ayn-Rand-at-heart.

Hang on, there...put your suitcases back in the closet. I should have said to be located, because so far Oceania consists of little more than architectural drawings and hopeful dreams. You see, it turns out that artificial island building is expensive. Really expensive. Like, one billion dollars expensive. Not exactly walking-around money, and even a little steep as small island nations go, if you've ever shopped around for one.

The good news is that, aside from the money snag, starting a country isn't completely outside the range of ordinary people. There are precedents. For example, in 1966 Englishman Paddy Roy Bates and his wife Joan founded the nation of "Sealand" atop an abandoned WWII anti-aircraft platform seven miles off the English coast. In the guise of "Prince Roy and Princess Joan of Sealand" they have minted coins, issued stamps and passports, and generally made themselves a nuisance to the motherland. After protracted legal battles Britain finally gave in and declared Sealand to be outside British jurisdiction. Apart from one incident (in which a consortium of German businessmen briefly seized the tower by force, only to be ousted in turn by the forces of good in the form of Prince Roy & his pals), Sealand's sovereignty has not been seriously challenged.

An unhappier fate befell the short-lived nation of Minerva, a tiny coral atoll briefly colonized in 1972 by disgruntled Libertarian types (as though there were any other kind). The details of Minerva's demise are a little sketchy but the short version is that

  1. The nearest thing to the Welcome Wagon you get in the South Pacific comes in the form of a canoe flotilla bearing the King of Tonga, and

  2. When the King of Tonga comes Avon-calling with his war canoes, it's unwise to answer the door.
Perhaps the fact that the would-be Minervans hadn't even got around to building any doors might explain why the King of Tonga- -obviously a very cranky little Avon Caller--booted the pilgrims off their atoll before paddling back Tonga-ward.

Sealand and Minerva demonstrate that, though difficult, risky, or both, it's not impossible to establish one's own country, as Klien is attempting to do from his base camp in Las Vegas--a symbolically appropriate headquarters, given that any contemporary search for liberty is more or less a crapshoot. Accordingly, Klien began throwing money around like some wild- eyed casino chump, manufacturing Oceania flags and passports-- items customarily associated with countries that actually exist-- and all but booking reservations for Shangri-La.

Me, I didn't need reservations. I had plenty of reservations already. Oceania's proposed site might be outside the hurricane belt, as Klien likes to point out, but Mother Nature's storms aren't the ones Oceanians would have to worry about. The real threat would be political storms. As a tax haven, ship's registry, gambling paradise, and center of secret banking, Oceania would be an irresistible attraction for the region's, if not the world's, less-than-sterling characters. This in turn would be sure to attract the attention of the region's, if not the world's, police powers.

In fact, the project's main weaknesses can categorized as various problems of attraction. For example, Oceania's motto ("Break the Chains that Bind Us"), coupled with its dolphin-strewn flag, make it appear to be some environmental group--not an image likely to attract many lovers of freedom. Projects like Klien's tend to be a short on Washingtons, Adamses, and Jeffersons, anyway--and long on cranks, misfits, and outcasts. Oceania, intended to be the world's first fully mobile country, has the potential to turn into the world's first floating trailer park, with such a disproportionate share of the world's geeks, Gomers, and Gilligans that it may have to change its motto from "Break the Chains that Bind Us" to "Oceania Goober Alles." Don't misunderstand me; I think it's great that people are interested in projects like this. I'm just not sure I want to live in a tiny artificial land peopled by nudists, pedophiles, computer nerds, food faddists, and anarchists. If I did, I could just move to California--maybe the only piece of real estate more likely than Oceania to slide into the ocean.

All of this is fairly academic at this point, anyway. Oceania is nowhere near even the serious planning stage, and personally, even if it existed today, I'm not inclined to move onto some man- made island. Not unless it's a pretty damn good man-made island. And even if I didn't mind living on a glorified oil platform, I certainly wouldn't want to do it with thousands of other people. Not even people I liked. Nope--no plastic islands for this Howie. I admit that initially, after the frustrating search that culminated in my election and letter-writing campaigns, when I felt as though I'd kissed every frog in the pond, it may have momentarily seemed like a good idea to go and live out on a big, floating, concrete lily pad. I wasn't thinking clearly; I was on the rebound, politically speaking, and Oceania happened to be there to catch me. Shows you what desperation can do to a man. But it isn't my ambition in life to lounge beneath palms and parasols, surrounded by hula skirts, fishing line dangling from my big toe, drinking fruity alcoholic beverages and singing The Banana Boat Song at the top of my lungs.

Wait--what am I saying? Of course it is! (I really need to remember to crack a window when I clean the oven.) What I mean to say is that my interest in the project is more symbolic than practical. Ever since the United States' decline into benevolent despotism, there's been a need for a fresh example of a free society--even if it's only a theoretical society. And, if the project succeeds, so much the better. But I still won't be interested in an Oceanian condo. Instead, I'll buy just a few square feet on the edge of Oceanian "soil"--just enough to tether a boat to. Yes, even among outcasts I am an outcast. I don't need the big Captain Nemo life. The Little Nemo life would suit me just fine.

Unfortunately, island-building success for Klien looks to be a ways off. Oceania isn't quite 20,000 leagues under the sea, but as things stand now, it may as well be. Projected to be inhabited by the end of 1995, the original Atlantis Project was sunk by "blue sky" laws and poor management. The now deeply-in-debt Klien is busy trying to revive it. When I spoke to him a few months ago I tried to talk him out of it. Founding a nation is hard enough without having to innovate in engineering as well (building habitable floating islands isn't exactly established technology). And even assuming one can raise a billion dollars, wouldn't it be better to spend it on something else--like taking over a state, for instance? At least with a state you'd have something you could be reasonably sure wouldn't sink into the ocean. (Unless you were stupid enough to take over California.)

Nevertheless, Klien, like all good lost-weekenders, is determined to win big or die trying. He has in fact managed to drum up quite a lot of support and get national exposure via magazines such as Details and PC Magazine and radio shows such as Art Bell's. Admittedly, not all support is equally valuable--I don't know if it's true, but I read somewhere that Bell thinks there's a Nazi space colony on the dark side of the moon. I don't know if that's true or not. (Whether Bell said that, I mean--not that I don't know whether there's Space Nazis on the moon. Everybody knows they're all in Idaho.) At any rate, publicity is publicity.

Like It or Lump It

More importantly, unfortunately, money is money, and that's the only thing that will elevate The Atlantis Project above the level of a quixotic, if elaborate, prank. And yet--no matter how much I hate feeling like Sancho Panza--I'll keep supporting Klien's project and others like it. Oceania may not be the Last Best Hope of Earth, but unless you want to go and try to take the moon away from the Space Nazis, Oceania and projects like it may be among the few rays of political hope left for freedom-seekers stuck on this planet.
Want to read Oceania's responses to The Freedom Project?

Update 1997: The Atlantis Project looks to be dead in the water. But there seems to be a new project underfoot, called New Utopia. Silly name, yes, but it appears similar in spirit and aim to the Atlantis Project. (Fortunately it's not run by the same people.) You can take a look for yourself at

Update 1999: The New Utopia Project seems also to have sunk. Figures.

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