Second Coming of the City-States

They seem to be returning. One, the Belle Isle commonwealth proposal, near Detroit, according to The Detroit News, and another, the Citadel: A Community of Liberty, in the mountains of Idaho.

Both are very different, economically, ideologically, and legally. Both would consider themselves under the sovereignty of the United States. Both would be under the defense of the US military. And land has been purchased for neither.

One is just west of the Appalachian’s. The other, just on the east side of the Rockies. Both are near America’s bread basket and would be easy to defend in a time of unrest. Perhaps this is a coincidence.

Though it focuses on Second Amendment and Liberty lovers, the Citadel does not intend any kind of affront to governments, but rather prepares to defend itself against economic, domestic, and natural disasters. This is according to the FAQ on the Citadel’s website:

What Threats Do You Expect to Defend Against?

The Citadel is primarily designed to defend against a grid-down, economic collapse scenario. When most people ask this question they are thinking in terms of defending against violent action but there are other aspects to defending ourselves. Self-sufficiency in terms of food, water and energy are also a form of defense against a collapse scenario so these are a major part of our plan.

The Citadel is not designed to withstand any direct .Mil or .Gov attack. Nor is the Citadel, in any manner, attempting to provoke any government entity.

As of mid January, the Citadel claims more than 200 families who have asked to join their community’s call to Rightful Liberty. I anticipate that it will attract bold and pioneering idealists, somewhat similar to the Pilgrims of the seventeenth century.

The Belle Isle commonwealth proposal, however, may be more attractive to financial high-rollers, especially since it appears to be more like a mote-surrounded version of the City of London’s banking mile, having its own laws and currency.

Financially unique territories, such as Hong Kong, the City of London, and Monaco, offer special opportunities to investors, corporate stewards, traders, engineers, contractors, and vacationers. So, Belle Isle could, theoretically, succeed, from an economic perspective.

Of course, that kind of dense affluence may not resonate well with the neighbors in back-land Michigan. And it may not find favor with fans of the “renowned Frederick Law Olmsted” who designed this historic Detroit City island-park. Hong Kong is facing similar challenges of public nostalgia over antiquated, yet historic, transportation hubs. Locals don’t want to see the old bus station replaced.

Since Hong Kong became a SAR of China (Special Administrative Region), China has, arguably, benefited more than Hong Kong, though that  benefit has been distributed over the 9.7 million square kilometers of the mainland economy. Perhaps a commonwealth like Belle Isle could be a “doorstep business district”, like Hong Kong is to Shenzhen, helping the Detroit, Michigan, and US economies—especially if it is tied to Michigan through either law or infrastructure or both. Only history will tell… if the proposal is even accepted. The Citadel is purely private and will remain under US and State jurisdiction, so it will not need any unusual approvals as will Belle Isle.

The Citadel, however, will face other challenges. A semi-autonomously sustained energy and agricultural parcel isn’t easy. The Pilgrims starved in their first few years, though that was from a form of soft communism which the Citadel would likely forbid. They’ll still have lessons to learn, since they would be responsible for supplying most aspects of basic needs, including energy, food, and manufacturing goods for sales in the rest of the US economy, with special attention to firearms. Belle Isle is not attempting the same self-sustainability on its 982 acres as the Citadel will on its two or three thousand acre plot.

That’s not to say that the Citadel will become the North Korea of Idaho. Not only will it remain under the sovereignty of the Federal and State governments, more so than Belle Isle would as a commonwealth, but the Citadel expresses intent to cooperate with their neighbors, to develop a local and robust economy beyond their own borders. Their model is more like Disney Land, minus the tourists, plus trade. Well have to wait and see how it all plays out.

I’m reminded of M. Night Shyamalan’s The VillageSometimes, society goes in a different directions and it’s okay to get away, start something new, and even revert to the past in doing so. In The Villiagerepeating history came with a high price. That was escapism and fiction. I see neither here. I see wisdom and foresight. But it will involve learning, nonetheless. Maybe The Village inspired Belle Isle—naaaah.

Regardless of the unknown, both of these plans for semi-autonomy, though very different in form, are experimental. History largely abandoned city-states. Perhaps a return to them could solve and avert many global crisises, but returning to the past will not be without the pain—and the thrill—that comes with learning all over again.

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