The Boston Phoenix October 5 - 12, 2000


States of mind


by Andrew Weiner

Freedonian history begins in 1992. John, then just entering high school in Houston, became "intrigued" by the possibility of declaring his parents' home independent of the US. He discussed the idea with a few friends, who then joined him in declaring their homes part of the Republic of Freedonia. (He says that at the time they were unaware that Freedonia was the name of the mythical nation in the Marx Brothers farce Duck Soup.)

The first Freedonian republic was actually an oligarchy, with all authority vested in two presidents and several cabinet members. Although the risk of revolution was rather low -- Freedonia had no citizens who were not also rulers -- John gradually moved to consolidate his power. Four years later, the second president was removed; a year after that, the country was re-established as a constitutional monarchy under the new Prince John I.

Why a monarchy? John gives two reasons. The first is that a life term renders him immune to the pressure of special interests, which he holds responsible for the downfall of representative democracies. Second, and perhaps more important: he's the right prince for the job.

Most college students don't tend to say things like "Whether or not we see a nation of liberty on this planet could hinge largely on my competence." Then again, most college students aren't self-proclaimed royalty. I didn't have the chance to meet John in person (he chose instead to communicate by e- mail), but our correspondence left me with the impression of someone exceptionally serious, if somewhat shy. He doesn't use slang or even contractions, and he signs his correspondence "Yours in Liberty." His chief hobby is improving his qualifications for princehood by studying political philosophy and keeping up with international news.

John's attention to theory is reflected in the Freedonian constitution, a lengthy document larded with such baroque legalisms as "bills of attainder" and "letters of marque and reprisal." Its frequent overlaps with the US Constitution reflect a little cribbing, perhaps, but also the desire of Freedonia's founders to return to essential principles that, in their view, have been largely neglected by American leaders.

Chief among these is a thoroughgoing, nearly utopian libertarianism. Should Freedonia ever become an actual state, its citizens will enjoy a condition of virtually limitless freedom. All drugs will be legal. There will be no speed limit. Gun ownership will be unrestricted and taxes will be "ultra-low." Underscoring these views is a simple faith that, if left to their own devices, people will find a way to get along. Since a prosperous private sector is sure to result, the Freedonian government plans to offer no social services and to spurn public-works projects entirely.

But if John and his fellow Freedonians trust optimistically in the benevolence of human nature, they are hostile toward any and all acts of government intervention. (Perhaps this reflects the peculiar position of a nation whose founders were being unjustly repressed by 10 o'clock curfews.) The problem with virtually every society, they believe, is that individual freedom is subject to "preventative" laws restricting behavior that hasn't yet occurred. Prince John derides this overreaching as "the punishment of the whole for the acts of a few."

Prince John's message has found a number of takers -- 275 at last count. Freedonians, according to their ruler, are "a widely varied people." This is almost true. Freedonians range in age from 12 to 72, and hail from nations as varied as Croatia, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. They work as programmers, plumbers, poets, and parapsychologists. But it is worth noting that only six Freedonians are women.

Because the country has not yet formed an active parliament, the responsibility for governing lies exclusively with Prince John and his cabinet. But even for the nation's ruling class, power exists more as concept than as fact. Dustin Gawrylow tells me that when Prince John asked him to be Freedonia's prime minister, "I had only one question: `Can I declare war?' [John's] answer was, `Well, theoretically, yes.' " For the majority of Freedonian citizens, however, there isn't a whole lot more to do than just belong.

Freedonia is not the only micronation to have declared its sovereignty in the past five years. The most comprehensive Web listing of micronations contains 118 entries; only a handful predate 1995. This recent surge in do-it-yourself statecraft is entirely due to the establishment of the Internet, a vast and uncharted terra incognita with boundless tolerance for far-fetched ideas.

Unsurprisingly, then, a wide range of interests and tastes is represented in micronational political culture. Many exhibit a weakness for the kinds of names found in Dungeon & Dragons modules or bad fantasy novels: the Dominion of Asphynxia, the Barony of Telusia, or the Glorious Empire of Lafartia. Royal-sounding titles are a common fetish, even in republics; roman numerals are also popular. Sometimes, various kinds of celebrity are conflated, as in the case of His Grace, Grand Duke James Dean and His Excellency, Archbaron John Wayne, both of the Republic of Tulsa.

Micronations also exhibit a deliriously random range of motives and symbolic references. Take, for instance, the Inner Realm of Patria, a "de facto Hindu theocracy" that boasts the same flag as an international shipping concern and a motto borrowed from a Stephen Stills lyric. Similarly scattershot is the 1st Independent Stoner Homeland, an affiliate of the pro-pot Green Panther Party, whose mock constitution makes high-minded appeals to turn Northern California into a state called Ganjastan and, in the next breath, defends each Ganjastani's inalienable right to "Party!"

For many of these virtual Grand Viziers and Supreme Dictators-for-Life, becoming masters of their own domains has been a lifelong hobby. More than a few admit to having dubbed themselves kings of their own bedrooms as children. Eric Lis, Emperor of Aerica, explains: "All children make up imaginary lands and stories, imaginary friends and adventures. I just never grew out of mine, and a couple hundred people have gotten pulled in along the way."

Aerica, which calls itself the "Monty Python of Micronations," displays a fairly typical national character: earnest calls for peace, equality, and freedom are leavened by a gently self-deprecating sense of humor. When Eric describes his nation's values to me, he stresses the need for both "iconoclasm and diplomacy," for speaking one's mind and respecting the views of others.

It's this balance that seems to be missing in the more uncompromisingly serious micronations like Freedonia. Lost amid the flourishes of para-libertarian rhetoric is the fact that ample freedom of speech already exists both in cyberspace and in many of the countries that unknowingly host these would-be splinter states. After all, the First Amendment guarantees every American the right to proclaim herself Exalted Arch-Solipsist of Dementia, should she so choose.

In fact, the Freedonians and the Ganjastanis probably owe less to the Founding Fathers than they do to the members of a different tradition in American politics: the local crank who proclaims himself king. The most famous of these, San Francisco's legendary Emperor Joshua Norton, printed his own bonds, issued executive orders, and gained such notoriety that his funeral in 1880 boasted 10,000 mourners in a two-mile parade.

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Andrew Weiner last wrote for the Phoenix on Killer Kowalski's Institute for Professional Wrestling. His e-mail address is