If you are at all familiar with the Liberland story, you might think of this as “How Not To Found Your Own Nation 101”. A hardcore Libertarian and Czech politician named Vít Jedlička attempted to found Liberland in 2015 and claim an already disputed patch of land along the border of Croatia and Serbia as its border. Attempts to actually occupy this territory on behalf of Liberland have been rebuffed by both sides of the Croatia-Serbia conflict over this territory. To make it short, nobody takes Liberland seriously anymore because the effort suffers from ill-considered decision-making and poor execution.
This highlights the problem of forming a geographically-based nation in the modern world, in which every square inch of dry land is either securely claimed, disputed, or declared off-limits to commercial and military exploitation according to international law. Seasteading is one option for people who want to escape what they see as the maddingly restrictive legal and regulatory environment of their home nation, and the Seasteading Institute will tell you everything you want to know about this option if you are at all curious.
Ditching borders altogether and founding a virtual nation that is not dependent on Earth’s geography is also increasingly popular with people who strongly support a voluntary association. These are the people who do not want to be lumped in with the collective “we” that a lot of commentators use to blame society for the world’s problems. They understand that they did not choose to be born in their native locality and would opt out if they could, so they protest having a finger pointed at them when others try to dump blame on their shoulders.
Call them individualists who have everything but a choice, if you like. These people may be the working poor who cannot afford organic produce, who buy convenient pre-packaged food like Kraft Macaroni and Cheese because they rarely have time to make nutritious meals using fresh ingredients, and who carpool to work out of necessity. They may be the people who were fined for having a vegetable garden in their front yard or forced to butcher their chickens due to unreasonable city codes. The current legal environment forces entrepreneurs like a print shop owner in Kentucky to choose between following their consciences and fighting an expensive court battle against activists who target their businesses. These people are facing circumstances that do not permit them to follow their consciences as consumers and possible producers for society. They do not even have the option of opting out.
That could make the creation of options that allow for the ultimate in voluntary associations attractive to those who know perfectly well that they are not all-powerful and cannot so easily ditch the practices that cause Earth’s problems. Virtual or “borderless” nations that have citizens but no defined geographic territory could become one of these options in an increasingly global environment where many people believe that national borders are obsolete. Most virtual nations are ones that exist entirely digitally and some are even based on new technologies like the Blockchain. A lot of them are founded by people who feel that the laws and regulations of modern nations have become too constrictive and want to give potential members a better range of options without the need to jump through very many hoops or spend a lot of money.
Forming a virtual nation might seem like the extreme version of voluntary association, and it kind of is. It turns citizenship into a type of free market that comes with the concept that you can “opt out” of one nation’s citizenship and “opt in” to another pretty much at will without worrying about things like national boundaries or even having to move. Each individual can simply lay out a list of what they’d look for in governmental and socioeconomic models that they feel would best meet their needs and then “go shopping” for a nation that comes closest to meeting their criteria. A successful network of virtual nations would pull the teeth of those who point fingers and try to blame those with no actual power to solve the world’s problems simply by making it easier for people who want out to effectively say, “I quit,” and make it stick.
Asgardia and Bitnation: Proof Of Concept Models
— Engadget (@engadget) June 13, 2017
Asgardia is a proof-of-concept nation that is not so much “borderless” as it rejects the idea of having a defined territory on Earth in favor of creating the first nation in outer space. At this time, Asgardia is accepting applications for citizenship. The first 100,000 citizens of Asgardia will receive 300 kilobytes of computer storage space on a satellite that it intends to launch into orbit. This is enough to send a small photograph into orbit. The satellite will be a CubeSat measuring 10cm X 10cm X 20cm and will piggyback with the launch of an Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft on a future International Space Station resupply mission.
— The Yorkshire Post (@yorkshirepost) June 13, 2017
Asgardia claims to promote both liberty and equality, as outlined in its constitution. The Constitution outlines the rights and responsibilities of citizens, as well as listing the core values of the virtual nation.
— Asgardia (@AsgardiaSpace) June 15, 2017
Its founder, a Russian computer scientist named Igor Ashurbeyli, listed his concern that terrestrial conflicts could spill over into outer space as the chief issue that Asgardia hopes to address. He told Motherboard, “The essence of Asgardia is Peace in Space and the prevention of Earth’s conflicts being transferred into space.”
Bitnation started out as a Proof-of-Concept for a nation based on the immutable record-keeping capabilities of the Blockchain. It currently focuses more on the nuts and bolts of maintaining a nation, including forming agreements with national governments to improve the integrity of government functions that are vulnerable to human error and corruption. Notable successes include a partnership with Estonia to improve its public notary system to eliminate rampant abuses and fraud and create an “e-resident” system.
— BITNATION (@MyBitNation) May 17, 2015
Most notably, Bitnation is a completely open-source system that allows the capability to fork and customize its code to create a “vanity” virtual nation. The website even includes a “nations directory” consisting of virtual nations whose owners have expressed an interest in doing exactly that.
Will The Idea Of Virtual Nations Catch On, Though?
With the right for each individual to decide what he or she does and doesn’t want to be associated with being a hot topic these days, the ability to explore the concept of virtual nations could catch on. This will require some education, however. Society is used to governments and nations being structured according to geographical boundaries. It is also used to laws and the legal system being a common set of standards that everybody except career criminals within a certain physical area agrees to abide by.
Realistically, a virtual nation will, at most, have a level of clout that is equivalent to a Homeowners’ Association with additional features that make it possible for members to interact and participate in voluntary transactions with one another until and unless there is a dramatic shift in the perception of what it means to be a nation and what it means to have a government. Until then, the laws of the virtual nation can be overridden by the laws of a city government, which in turn can be overridden by state and federal laws.
— CNN Opinion (@CNNOpinion) May 29, 2017
From a more practical standpoint, seasteading and space colonization may be more viable alternatives that avoid the obvious practical problems of having a population that may be scattered around the world. A nation like Asgardia may have a better chance to succeed as an actual nation because it isn’t trying to compete with already established nations for territory and authority. Rather, it is attempting to establish itself in outer space, a “territory” that cannot be legally claimed by any signatory of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. Legal experts have opined that anyone who settles space would legally be considered “space pirates” by the nations that have signed the Outer Space Treaty, but if Asgardia can defend the territory it lays claim to, then it may eventually become recognized as a legitimate nation.
— UNOOSA (@UNOOSA) June 7, 2017
If virtual nations were to succeed, though, it would mean a new apex for the right of free association. Individuals would just automatically have the right to choose which nations, socioeconomic models, and ideals they would rather support by thumbing through the list of available choices. They wouldn’t get stuck as a part of a collective “we” that they never had a choice about joining and don’t have the capacity to change if they perceive that the society that they find themselves in is flawed. It will take more planning and foresight than the founder of Liberland has shown, but a theoretical patchwork of successful virtual nations would be a win for those who are concerned about encroachments into their right of free association.