The Probability Broach

Stefan Molyneux mentioned during his inebriated speech at the 2011 Porcupine Freedom Festival (aka Porcfest) that because libertarians are not appreciated in this statist day and age, he imagines himself in the future libertarian utopia where our progeny will give us a huge “Thank You” for our courage in the face of tyranny. While daydreaming about a voluntaryist society may be a source of comfort for some folks, it is only useful as a morale boosting exercise, since proselytizing about it to people who don’t want it is counter-productive. What is probably better than vaguely describing how a stateless society could work (or pleading theoretical ignorance about potential market trends), is to propose one detailed version of it actually working through the medium of a fictional novel.



Alternate histories are a literary technique of establishing a unique fictional universe through a point of divergence from actual history. Imagine, if you will, that the Declaration of Independence was instead written to say, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the unanimous consent of the governed,” or that the Whiskey Rebellion was successful thanks to the intervention of Albert Gallatin on behalf of the irate farmers. What if George Washington had been executed by a militia unit, the federal government and its Constitution dissolved, Alexander Hamilton had fled to Prussia, and the Articles of Confederation revised like they were supposed to be? Apparently, Thomas Jefferson devised a new calender to honor the birth of liberty in 1776 AD (Gregorian calendar) as year 0 A.L. (Anno Liberatis, the “year of liberation”), developed a new standard of weights and measures in terms of “metric” inches and pounds, and successfully abolished the “peculiar institution” of ancient Egyptian styled slavery in 1820 (44 AL).

According to Smith, the American Civil War never happened, Sequoya was elected president in 1840 (64 AL), and because science and technology advanced so quickly, Alexander Bell, instead of having to invent the telephone, instead produces a type of voder in 1877 (101 AL) that allows simians to talk, which paves the way for them to eventually attain citizenship. By 1893 (117 AL) the North American Confederacy (NAC) is formed by the former governments and territories of Canada, Newfoundland, Alaska, Mexico, Cuba, California, the old United States, and the Republic of Texas; the closest to any world war that the NAC came to was the Thousand Airship Flight by Confederate volunteers against Prussia, despite neutrality being declared by the Continental Congress. After that war, Lunar colonies were established in 1949 (173 AL), Confederate president Ayn Rand visits the Moon a few years later, and a Mars colony is founded by 1968 (192 AL).

Gallatinopolis, the capital of the NAC, is located in Colorado where the Continental Congress meets very infrequently. While they still use parliamentary procedure, the form of representation is not geographically determined at all (such as by an electoral district), since all representation is at-large. The actual legislative building is in a dilapidated barn, which stands in stark contrast with the rest of the futuristically high-tech Confederate society. Because the Continental Congress usually deadlocks because of the many polarizing factions (i.e. political parties), it can’t actually accomplish anything, which by itself incapacitates government effectiveness, thus ensuring everyone’s Liberty.

Speaking of Confederate society, it is completely alien to what we are used to in our universe. For instance, private security (non-corporate) businesses arbitrate disputes and bodyguard clients (for all intents and purposes, they are the pragmatic application of the Dispute Resolution Organization concept), pedestrian crosswalks have been replaced by escalators that go underneath the roads (these underground tunnels are located at every intersection and are laced with shops that cater to all sorts of market demands), and medical science has advanced to the point where organs can be grown and the effects of old age can be successfully reversed (for awhile) by a regeneration process. Although the ubiquitous presence of highly computerized technology might be evocative of Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, or even 1984, it is not used in any discernible manner here that could be thought of as tyrannical.

The plot itself is little more than a good detective story. In 1987, Lieutenant Win Bear of the Denver Police Department is trying to solve the homicide of one Vaughn Meiss (who is an allusion to Ludwig von Mises, as are many of the other characters) whose death is entangled in a government conspiracy that involves the Stasi-like Federal Security Police (FSP, or its Newspeak equivalent, SecPol). During a gunfight with FSP agents in Meiss’ lab, Win Bear accidentally leaves this dimension and enters the parallel universe of the NAC (in 211 AL) through a probability broach, which he later discovers from a dolphin physicist is an interdimensional conduit that was accidentally discovered back in 1970 (194 AL) when paratronicists where trying to go beyond the limits of ion-drive spaceships.

After befriending some of the locals (including a version of himself, Ed Bear, whom he treats as his own brother), Win Bear eventually learns that the NAC is still opposed by the Hamiltonians (adherents of the Federalist tradition), who are in fact working with the FSP in order to smuggle nuclear weapons into the NAC in order to conquering it. Win Bear and his Confederate compatriots manage to warn the NAC through a session of the Continental Congress, and the Congress eventually opts to send propaganda materials through the broach in order to encourage an insurrection within the United States of America. The chief FSP agent is killed by Win Bear in a gun duel, and nearly all of the Hamiltonians are accidentally killed in an explosion that Win Bear set off during an experiment whereby one of the Confederate scientists was attempting to intercept the other broach.

L. Neil Smith’s The Probability Broach is the best fictional example that I can find of what an anarcho-capitalist utopia would look like. To be perfectly honest, while it does initially seem very appealing to my Anti-Federalist sensibilities, it is ultimately little different from 1760s America (albeit a high tech one where Indians, Africans, and women aren’t shat on). Although I do sympathize with the disgust about the Constitution’s inability to limit the federal government, I can understand why it just might leave a bad taste in the mouth of your average constitutionalist, even if you clarify that the Bill of Rights was the best thing invented before sliced bread. If you prefer a more visually striking version of the novel, then feel free to read the online edition of the comic book version, The Probability Broach: The Graphic Novel.

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