Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Wild Frontier

Anthony de Jasay makes the point in his Liberty Fund interview that, more than anything else, the existence of the frontier for a great deal of time was the major source of the American character of independence and local self-help that de Tocqueville noted, and that the Constitution was not a particularly important factor, but more effect than cause. De Jasay goes on to conclude that in a hundred years - when the frontier is but a distant memory - America may well become indistinguishable from the typical European state. I would say that recent events suggest this timetable may be brought forward significantly. On the other hand... This is a physical frontier we are talking about. Physical land is a limited resource, leaving aside space and the deep oceans for the moment. There are of course other types of frontier that have yet to be discovered. In fact every (successful) entrepreneur discovers, or rather creates, a new frontier. The very successful entrepreneurs create whole new landscapes that others race to populate, in a sort of virtual Oklahoma land rush. But any act of entrepreneurship has the same effect in principle: the creation of a new frontier, small or large. Like a physical frontier, these entrepreneurial frontiers leave behind the settled and the timid and invite the independent and the adventurous; the risk takers. That is, people of the original American character. So perhaps the decline into statist indolence is not completely inevitable? Can the injection of new frontiers keep the American character alive?

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