Book Review: How To Start Your Own Country

How To Start Your Own Country, by Erwin S. Strauss

As someone who has in the past participated in efforts at encouraging the development of micro nations [1], Strauss brings personal experience that many others are lacking concerning the struggle that people face in establishing their own sovereignty in the international realm.  This problem of legitimacy [2] that affects even larger nations with long established claims for statehood is even more critical for smaller realms without a historical and cultural tradition and without the means to defend themselves from the military forces of states like Vanuatu or Tonga in preserving some sort of independent hold over land.  The club of nations is an exclusive one, too exclusive even for many state that have very strong claims for nationhood [3], and most independent efforts face immense difficulties and surviving in the face of the pressure of states to preserve their hold over increasing claimed territories, including uninhabited atolls and sand bars.  The experience that the author has in these problems gives this book an admirable sense of realism that adds a sense of cynical realism to the idealism that is often involved in state building efforts.

Imagining one’s own ideal state is a hobby in Western civilization that goes back at least to Plato’s Republic, and the libertarian ideal of everyone doing what was right in their own eyes was decried as far back as the book of Judges, so it should not be assumed that either of these phenomenons are simply contemporary in nature, although it must be admitted that this book focuses mostly on history that is relatively recent to its creation, as this book was first published in 1979 and the edition read dates from 1999.  The contents of this book are divided into several unequally sized chapters, beginning with the call of the horizon and the longing to be free from contemporary unjust political orders.  The author provides five different approaches to establishing sovereignty to a would-be new country:  seeking to gain legitimacy through efforts at establishing traditional sovereignty, running a ship under a flag of convenience from a nation like Liberia or Sierra Leone, pursuing statehood through litigation, the vonu approach in seeking to establish communities out of sight and out of mind living off the land and keeping a low profile, and establishing a model country that nonetheless still pays taxes as tribute to the nations that they are critiquing through their existence.  The author then briefly discusses internal organization (constitution-making [4]) and attracting settlers and examining the difficulties faced for the endurance of new nations.  Roughly two-thirds of the book is devoted to providing a detailed and alphabetically organized selection of case histories of previous and current efforts at state building, the vast majority of which are defunct, before providing some likely out of date information for further reading and communication.

The greatest appeal of this book is that it both gives some reasons why there are so many efforts at new nations and why these efforts face such difficult problems.  For one, most nations apart from the United States, Great Britain, and other Anglo-Saxon nations are often far less tolerant of the micronational efforts among their citizens.  For another, many nations prefer to deal with rogues whose behavior is predictable as opposed to idealists who are much less so and whose actions are a direct critique upon the club of nations that they are a part of.  The book even has the air of prophecy, in that it discusses places in the United States, like Eastern Oregon, where the struggle between communities who wish to be left alone by the government and an increasingly intrusive government have come into violent disagreement.  Although the information in this book is out of date, and the general tone of the book is grimly realistic to the point of view of being immensely cynical, this is a book that injects a dose of harsh reality into the often starry-eyed dreams of visionaries establishing their own realms where they are monarchs and rulers and subject to no will apart from their own, even if it makes it hard to attract enough people to make a realm viable or provokes disputes among factions and cliques over the organization of society before the logistics have been taken care of.  For those who wish to ponder the reality of nation building, this book is a classic work, worthy of being read, containing a great deal of conceptual help as well as a grounding in realpolitik.  Given the large number of people I know who enjoy engaging in this sort of nation-building, the potential audience for this book is somewhat large.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/06/18/book-review-micro-nations-the-lonely-planet-guide-to-home-made-nations/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/06/21/book-review-mother-should-i-trust-the-government/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/i-get-by-with-a-little-help-from-my-friends-on-the-legitimacy-and-viability-of-mini-states/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/who-needs-government-anyway-belgium-doesnt/

[3] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/06/27/on-the-applicability-of-divorce-law-to-the-recognition-of-new-sovereign-states/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/09/03/if-i-could-melt-your-heart-a-reflection-on-frozen-conflicts/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/05/13/a-modest-proposal-for-a-plebiscite-to-resolve-the-status-of-the-republic-of-somaliland/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/11/30/people-just-want-to-be-free/

[4] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/the-constitution-writers/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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1 Response to Book Review: How To Start Your Own Country

  1. Pingback: Book Review: A Necessary Evil | Edge Induced Cohesion

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