It is something of a ritual for young 20-somethings to read Walden; or A Life in the Woods, and pine for the simple truths of life to reveal themselves while amongst nature, to follow the path laid out by the 19th century transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
Combine this spiritual quest with the modern incarnation of the American frontiersmen, the Tea Party constitutionalist, who wishes to escape the clutches of the bureaucratic police-state, and be left alone to fly his Gadsden Flag and watch Alex Jones, and you have the 21st century Neo-Homesteader.
Time has shown that the conservative battle-cry ‘don’t tread on me’ to be a laughable proposition. Teh gubmint gots all ‘duh big guns. Just ask Randy Weaver. As Republicans relinquish their position and voice on political and economic issues and insist on their right to be ‘left alone’, the progressives march onward, encountering the but the most feeble opposition in their quest to create John Lennon’s Garden of Eden, codified in their hymn Imagine.
It’s not just disposessed white men who hear the battle call. Women love to romanticize country living, particularly after they’ve stayed at a friend’s farm, been glamping, b&bing or watched a few westerns. Reading about canning, preserves, home brew, raising chickens and bunnies, and how to clean your bolt-action 22 is good fun, inspiring the backwoods rebel and channeling the spirit of our founding stock ancestors (in my case, Tasmanian farmers). Having a couple of kids, teaching them how to live a more traditional life away from the vagaries of tv-programming, vibrant public schools, twerking kiddie pop stars and junk food ticks all the boxes. ‘Muh Freedoms!
It all sounds great, and part of me still wants to revisit it but some harsh realism is in order. You will always need money. Lots of it. As soon as financial problems emerge, all the bunny stew and home-made jam in the world won’t make you feel any better. Life is only going to get more expensive. Spending 8 hours per day to produce $15 worth of groceries and heating is a luxury. It is not being frugal. Those who think like that have the equation all wrong, and the only people who can really afford to do it without it becoming a nightmare are rich people. If you’re deluded enough to think your cottage business selling beeswax candles and acorn necklaces on Etsy can actually make money then not even this article can help you.
For the middle-class reactionary fed up with city or suburban living or just modernity in general, you can move way out to a collapsing rural area, and spend five hours a day commuting. It’s a bad trade. The last sixty years have not been kind to the country. Everything works against you. You can’t safely drink and drive anymore. Fuel prices are always increasing. You have to spend an inordinate amount of time driving for the most basic things, especially if you want quality. You can spend lots of your money on farm toys for your hobbies like fishing, hunting, prepping, gardening etc but if you want a decent income (which means full-time work), you won’t get value out of it, (you won’t have the time) you still have to pay lots of tax, the local kids will be rough and probably a bad influence on your own.
You likely won’t find cultured or intellectual neighbors who have undergone your philosophical transformation that you imagined them to have. If you’re within commuting distance, don’t expect your neighbors to join you to drink beer and shoot deer without a tag. You will spend more and more time online, try and get to the city whenever you can for a bit of stimulation and then begrudge the cost. Drinking your home-brew alone gets tired after a couple of months. Your dog will become wild (not a good thing), despite your harsh punishment. Your woman will start neglecting herself and become increasingly quarrelsome. People in the city will think you’re beneath them, despite (or because of?) your willingness to talk Faust and Hayek.
I know all of this because I’ve tried it. I thought I was living out the culmination of five years of libertarian study and personal development. It’s quite a thing to radically transform your life in an attempt to actualise your worldview. But reality doesn’t care about your worldview, or how you think people ought to behave. You can take the boy out of the suburbs, but you can’t take the suburbs out of the boy.
We associate higher incomes with more consumption. But poorer people are amongst the biggest consumers out there. They are the ones you see in People of Walmart, Monster Truck Rallies and dive bars. Dialing down your income does not mean that you become freer to embark on your path to self-actualisation.
By making your financial position more precarious, you consume yourself with the existential worry that defines the proletariat that you romanticised as poor in material wealth, yet rich in spiritual wealth and freedom.
Now that I’ve extinguished your homesteading dreams, let me add this caveat. There are some that can and have pulled this off. They just usually aren’t middle class professionals who read LewRockwell.com. They might have a connection to a community through friends or family, have an in-demand trade qualification, marry into a farming dynasty or just have lots of money. But regardless of whether they can make country living work, they probably aren’t living in their 1776 paradise. It doesn’t exist.
I haven’t given up on the idea of owning some land somewhere remote and taking another Thoreau-break to write and eat beans. But I’ve realised that the basis of the strong, prosperous rural community is intact families who have farmed for generations and are profitable. This is scarce, and it’s not something that can be created with a ‘treechange’. Maybe if enough third-worlders immigrate, plantations will become viable again. But until the Rapture comes, you will be of more use to your brothers and sisters by participating in the world, networking, reading, writing, creating parallel institutions than you will by searching for Galt’s Gulch.