Never Been Tried? Part I: Moresnet

by Daniel Hawkins

0211_because_governments_fuck_up“Anarchy sounds great and all, but it’s never been tried,” Shawn said smugly.

I stammered, reluctantly acknowledging his point. After the fourth debate with my former teacher, defeat was in the air again. It seemed that no matter how many solutions I put forward, I met the same roadblock. Even to me, he sounded logical. Would I drive a car without knowing if it worked? Would I trust my life to a surgeon on his or her first day? Really, how could we expect a world power like America—let alone the whole globe—to transition to a new social system without some evidence to show that it could work?

Of course, we know that the State is too greedy and violent for us to wait around for abolition. We know that everyone practices Anarchism from the comfort of their own home, and that the principles can be applied on any scale. But, explaining this to a government employee, let alone the average person, can be a little difficult when both parties know there hasn’t been a single country that has gone without a government.

Or has there?

Being a nerd for history, Shawn’s point was infuriating. After smashing my keyboard a few times, I thought I should use it for its intended purpose, and I did some research. Actually, it wasn’t very long before I found a wealth of sources on academia’s biggest secret: not only has Anarchism been tried, but it is the most successful system to date.

The Europe That Never Was

If you’re like most people, history class was like a mallet to the head, and brought only pain and occasional periods of unconsciousness or semi-consciousness in the form of sleep. I don’t blame you. But, for those who really want to stick it to Statists, brush those cobwebs from your brain and go back with me all the way to 1815. Yes, it was a long time ago—no TV, no cars, not even electric power. But on the scale of time, it might as well have been yesterday.

Napoleon had just gone from being king of the world to king of an island. The remaining powers—the Congress of Vienna—were redrawing the borders. The Balance of Power theory dictated that the audacious French had to be restrained. To do that, the mustachioed, monocled emperors set up a DMZ between the Netherlands and Prussia. Not only would “the Triangle,” as they called it, ward off further war, but it housed a very important zinc mine that the empires could share. The area was called Neutral Moresnet. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry. I have a feeling that might have happened on purpose.

Moresnet began with a population of only about 250 miners living between the Triangle and their respective homelands. Aside from its economic benefit, the territory went largely unnoticed. It saw the creation of neighboring Belgium in 1830, as well as a rash of bloody revolutions around Europe in 1848. With no one to rule it, those who lived in Moresnet did so rather anonymously. Unfortunately, Moresnet couldn’t stay a secret forever. Amid the growing fervor of Imperialism and Nationalism,  people began to hear of a land with no tariffs, low taxes, no war, one court, and only a handful of government officials.

It was Galt’s Gulch on the North Sea.

By 1850, the population had doubled, bringing in businesses, farms, and infrastructure. Between 1850 and 1860, the population quadrupled. Moresnet had turned into a Wild West boom-town (but with less shoot-outs, I assume). The German Empire and Belgium attempted to assert their dominance in the region by shutting down a private postal service and a casino, but could not thwart the independent spirit of the Moresnettians. As their few government officials retired, stability in the nation continued. A small competing court system sprang up (more on that in Part Two), and taxes dropped to zero. Even when the mine dried up in the 1880s, the residents had little to fear. Strangely enough, Moresnet saw even more prosperity.

Immigrants who learned of a country free of bureaucracy and strife moved from places like Russia, America, and even China. One such newcomer was Dr. Wilhelm Molly, the town’s resident renaissance man and champion. After some medical and entrepreneurial adventures, Molly extended a hand to the anti-State Esperanto speakers. Their influence was so heavy that the residents changed the name from Moresnet to Amikejo (or “place of friendship”). Visitors and residents often remarked on the area’s bohemian yet modern atmosphere. At a population of about 4,000, Amikejans enjoyed an ease of life that contrasted sharply with their militarized, industrial neighbors. But the happy mistake that was Amikejo could not last forever. When the Great War came, the German Empire swept across Europe, taking the Triangle with it. As strangely as it had come into existence, Amikejo disappeared.

Though it was short-lived, we should not forget the legacy of the Triangle. For a time, people did manage to survive without a central authority. While Europe grew more imperious, Moresnet built a new society based on free trade and liberty. In its defiance of the norm, Amikejo could have served as a blueprint for the new Europe.

“That’s all well,” the skeptic might say, “but Moresnet doesn’t exist anymore. It might have been fairly recent, but it only lasted for about 100 years. For all we know, it was a fluke. There was a population smaller than most American towns, and there was already the Napoleonic Code to set up a precedent for the rule of law. How can something like that work today? How can Anarchism support a modern population at our standard of living?”

I confess that I was wondering that myself. Moresnet was captivating, but it was by no means proof positive. There had to be other evidence. There had to be something that lasted longer and operated on a larger scale. So, in the next installment of “Never Been Tried?” we’ll go back even further, to a place that should be a little more familiar: Ireland.

More information on Moresnet can be found here and here.