Rebirth of Reason

Favorite EditSanction this itemThe Constitution of Government in Galt's Gulch by Wolf Devoon
The Constitution of Government in Galt

Plans to start new communities, and even entire new nations, are iconic to the libertarians who were impassioned by Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.  Rand's "Utopia of Greed", hidden in the Colorado Rockies, only echoed a long tradition in American history, beginning with America itself.  The City on a Hill, the City of God, drew the leaders of a million dreamers, from the Puritans and Quakers to the Shakers and Mormons, and the New Hampshire Free State Project today.  California's Utopian Colonies by Robert V. Hine (1953) went through several editions because the subject is compelling.  How to Start Your Own Country by Erwin S. Strauss (Loompanics, 1980) chronicled (failed) libertarian ventures and contrasted them to Sealand, the English pirate radio station that ruled the wave(length) in defiance of Britannia. It, too, has been reprinted and republished. Laissez Faire City in Costa Rica was yet another failed attempt. The Constitution of Government in Galt's Gulch reveals the cognitive context of the man who wrote the document.  


Devoon is a lawyer.  (And he is more.  His spoken autobiography includes time at Disney, reformatting newly purchased Miramax properties.)  Like many Objectivists, he was drawn to a new country project. This one consumed about $10 million, spent first in Peru, and then Costa Rica.  It ran for about a year, and ran successfully (if that is not stretching the meaning) for about six months.  Operationally, the "community" of traders was in cyberspace, protected by walls of cryptography. To make that work, a handful of adventurers, investors, and shady characters established a physical base of operations. Devoon wrote this constitution for that confederated chain of homes, houses, and compounds.   


The actual text of the charter runs about ten pages (pp. 127 - 136), about half of those being commentary on the five Articles.  Leading up to that Devoon explains his relationship to equity, private morality, capitalism, divorce, the rights of children, bankruptcy and fraud, and the death of industrial civilization.  It seems like a long walk - and the narrative includes one of those, to Ayrshire, Scotland. But it is a walk of 164 pages with a companion who devotes deep thought to common problems.  And after the walk, you two have brandy and coffee by a fireplace to continue prying the nut of truth from the shell of perception.


Devoon is a lawyer in a technological society, an information age. In the last great age of commerce, Jeremy Bentham offered a T-Account ledger for his hedonism. Devoon relies on an infinite series from algebra.  Your most important value should weigh more than the sum of all subsidiary values, each one half of the one above.  10, 5, 2.5, 1.25, 0.625,… Devoon's primary value is artistic achievement.  It outweighs physical comfort, social approval, helping others, political power, a place in history, and telling jokes.  That these are probably not your values - they are not mine - does not change the power of the method.  If your values are rightly defined, no lesser one can jump to the fore and dominate the others, claiming a short-term benefit in sacrifice of your lifelong integrity.


And Devoon is integrated, self-consciously the sum of his experiences, which means: he possess integrity.  In The Fountainhead, Howard Roark tells Gail Wynand that for most people integrity is the ability not to take a watch from your neighbor's pocket.  In fact, integrity is loyalty to an idea. For Devoon, that idea is the rule of law. 


Some Objectivists will have a hard time understanding Devoon's political heuristic.  In an interview with her lawyer, Henry Mark Holzer, Ayn Rand cited ancient Rome as an example of objective law.  It was flawed; certainly it was not Objectivist law for human rights and property rights.  But the law was written down, publicized, and applied the same to everyone in every case. For Rand, political oppression was not the iron laws, but their flexibility at the whim of a bureaucrat who could grant a favor or withhold one.  The constitution for this Galt's Gulch established courts of law, and nothing more. Legislation is not law. Administration is not law. All law is bench-made because in cases of private law (tort), claimants overwhelmingly offer novel arguments. If the case could have been easily settled, it would not have come to court.  In English law, the state is only another plaintiff; sometimes (too rarely) a defendant. Devoon expects most significant cases to be settled as equity law.  He does not address criminal law; and only natural persons have standing in court. 


In the paragraphs and pages that follow the five Articles of the Constitution, Devoon nods to a single police force - allowing that other private firms could operate under the same body of law.  He also acknowledges the possibility of competing courts - again, under the same constitution. He grants the utility of a single army funded by a single revenue stream of shareholders, leaving unresolved the problem of free riders. 


This is not a book for someone in need of All the Answers.  It does deliver Many of the Questions, most of them in form of narratives, slices of life from the experience of one person who takes the time to live fully aware and to think about his perceptions.


Added by Michael E. Marotta
on 7/04, 6:23am

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