The American Zone: L. Neil Smith Paints Portrait of Liberty

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The American Zone: L. Neil Smith Paints Portrait of Liberty

by Ari Armstrong

[The following article originally appeared in the February 2002 edition of Colorado Liberty.]

The American Zone is a sequel to L. Neil Smith's libertarian classic The Probability Broach. Win Bear is a detective who lived in a socialistic version of the United States. He was transported to a parallel universe in which people thrive in a libertarian North American Confederacy. In the new book, published in December, a skyscraper is bombed, leading to predictable calls for big government. Bear's job is to solve the crime. Smith's novel could hardly be more timely.

Smith is arguably the most significant libertarian science fiction writer living today, and he is one of the most prominent libertarian writers in general. He recently won the the Prometheus Award for Forge of the Elders, an award he's earned twice before. He also recently came out with Hope, a book he co-authored with Aaron Zelman of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership. The pair previously published The Mitzvah.

The title page of Zone assures us, "All the characters and events portrayed in this novel are either fictitious or are used fictitiously." Keep this firmly in mind as you encounter characters with names like "Bennett Williams," "Allard Wayne," and "Buckley F. Williams." They are the right-wing advocates of socialism in the novel. They are also suspects in the bombing.

Also on the list of suspects are left-wing socialists in the Majoritarian Society and big-government environmentalists. The plot is the perfect device for Bear to traipse around the Confederacy, noticing the differences between the free world he lives in and the statist world he came from. And Bear, accompanied by the sharp-tongued philosopher Lucille G. Kropotkin, talks politics with friend and foe along the trail.

Libertarians will probably have the most fun simply imagining with Smith what it would be like to live in a fully free society. Defense is handled by citizens' militias, justice is assured by the voluntary Civil Liberties Association, and the market is entirely free. Medicine, space travel, and technology of every sort are marvelously advanced relative to the United States, and the level of personal wealth is several times higher.

Here in our world, two dominant schools of libertarian strategy have emerged in the last few years. One school is epitomized by the Advocates for Self-Government. Mary Ruwart, Michael Cloud, and Carla Howell are leaders of this school. They focus on improving communication skills so that libertarians can present their principled views in ways that resonate with people. The other school might aptly be called the "defibrillator school" of libertarianism. This school, led by Vin Suprynowicz, Claire Woolfe, and L. Neil Smith, holds that plainly speaking the stark truth will shock enough Americans into thinking for themselves that we may just be able to restore our freedoms.

Generally, the first camp is more active in the LP, whereas the later is a little skeptical of it. That is not to say the two schools necessarily conflict. Indeed, Smith acknowledges LP founder David Nolan and Advocates founder Marshall Fritz, and Smith himself was on the ballot for president in Arizona.

Hope is about a writer who wins the presidency in 2008 on the Libertarian ticket. The Libertarian Enterprise (TLE, www.webleyweb. com/tle/index.html), which Smith publishes, links to a petition to draft him for President in 2004.

In Zone (pages 293-4), Smith makes some criticisms of a "Freedom-Lover's Party" that he evidently means to apply also to the LP. Yet, in the January 7 edition of TLE (Issue 155), Smith writes, "I've always believed our first task must be to gather up those who agree with us, before we go out to capture hearts and minds. It may even be time to set aside old feuds within the movement."

Smith maintains his own to-the-point and iconoclastic style. Bear says, "Most people don't realize [Benjamin Franklin] was the father of corporate socialism... in Revolutionary America. It was his intention that the government would accomplish everything it undertook by granting monopolies to certain ‘deserving' parties. That's how... he wound up in charge of the government postal monopoly" (59).

Should we be surprised that a girl purchases a machine gun and morphine for her parents at "Mr. Suprynowicz'" general store? Lucy sugar-coats Smith's critique of the state: "Politicos to the right of center justify their trespasses against privacy an' personal freedom in the name of ‘decency' or ‘national security.' Those to the left suppress individual economic self-determination an' the right to own and carry weapons in the name of ‘public safety' or ‘social justice,' but it's all a pack of lies meant to put a pretty face on thuggery an' armed robbery" (152).

Sometimes Smith has a quieter appeal: "My guess is that he'd be happy just being a waiter at Mr. Meep's. The simple truth is that we'd all be -- if we could do it in a free country" (348).

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