15 Years into the Free State Project: Interview with Founder Dr. Jason Sorens

On July 23, 2001, a political science graduate student at Yale University named Jason Sorens published a radical essay introducing the Free State Project, a proposal to see if political change could take hold if 20,000 pro-liberty activists moved to a low-population state and worked toward the creation of a truly free society. He’d been studying historical independence / autonomy / secession movements around the world—seeing how they formed and what caused them to succeed—when the idea for the Free State Project came to him.

The first 5,000 people who signed up to moved selected New Hampshire as the destination state, thanks to a number of factors including a very low tax burden and an already strong pro-liberty mentality. (NH is the “Live Free or Die” state, after all!)

Whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.” —Constitution of the state of New Hampshire, Article 10.

In February 2016, the Free State Project finally reached its goal of 20,000 signers, each of them pledging to relocate within five years, though close to 2,000 “early movers” are already here, making a tremendous impact in their communities and in the legislature. (If you’d like to see a sampling of what some FSP movers are accomplishing, check out our “Free State Project: 2015 Year in Review” video and blog post!)

To celebrate the 15-year anniversary of Jason Sorens’ original essay, we traveled up to interview him at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, where he teaches in the government department. We wanted to capture his reflections on the first 15 years, as well as his predictions for the future of the Free State Project. He also discusses the benefits of minimal government, and why he’s so passionate about sharing libertarian ideals. Also of interest was the discussion regarding the possibility of New Hampshire peacefully seceding from the United States federal government; with Britain’s exit from the European Union (Brexit), discussions about NH autonomy are sprouting up thanks to groups like NHexit and the Foundation for New Hampshire Independence. Dr. Sorens is no stranger to the topic, having authored the definitive book Secessionism: Identity, Interest, and Strategy in 2012.

There might be an opportunity in the next couple of years to push for independence from a federal government that has gone completely crazy. Every empire falls and the United States will not be intact forever. If we look at the current election, that might create more demand for independence. The fact is: Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is going to be the next president, almost certainly. I kind of agree with P.J. O’Rourke myself: I see Hillary Clinton as very bad—but a kind of normal sort of bad—and I see Trump as possibly the final blow to the republic.” —Free State Project founder Jason Sorens

“Announcement: The Free State Project” — Jason Sorens’ original essay

While much has changed since Dr. Sorens penned his original essay proposing the Free State Project, it remains a fascinating read that captures a revolutionary moment in time. The full essay—“Announcement: The Free State Project”—is still available to read via L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise.

It is exciting to me that we might have a real shot at true freedom in our lifetimes. Certainly, there will be inconveniences. We might have to move away from friends and family; there might be spells of unemployment; we might have to take careers that are not our first choice. But I can’t believe that we’ve gone so soft that we won’t tolerate these inconveniences for a possibility at attaining true liberty. Our forefathers bled and died - because of the Stamp Tax! The Free State Project requires nothing of that kind, and the stakes are so much higher. How much is liberty worth to you?” —excerpt from Jason Sorens’ original Free State Project essay

About Free State Project founder Jason Sorens

Jason Sorens, Ph.D moved to Lebanon, NH from Buffalo, NY in August 2013 with his wife and daughter. In addition to teaching at Dartmouth, Dr. Sorens also runs a student program there called the Political Economy Project, engaging students with big ideas in philosophy, politics, and economics. He is also the founder and president of Ethics and Economics Education of New England, a program to boost ethical and economic literacy in the region through workshops for high schoolers, state legislators, opinion leaders, and the general public. Check out our previous featured video on Dr. Sorens to learn more about him and his activism here in New Hampshire.