|Don't cry for me, Christiana|
by Kurt St. Angelo
@2005 Libertarian Writers' Bureau
One of Indiana's most unique and special places to visit is the historic community of New Harmony, near Evansville. Prior to 1850, it was the site of two of America's great utopian communities, which had unusual impact on science, industry, architecture and public education.
Harmonie on the Wabash was first established in 1814 by the Harmony Society, a communitarian separatist group from the German Lutheran Church, led by the charismatic George Rapp. In 1825, the Harmonists sold the entire town of 30,000 acres to businessman and social reformer Robert Owen of Scotland, who sought to create a community without social classes and personal wealth. Along with Scottish geologist William Maclure, the community introduced vocational education, kindergarten and other educational reforms.
In contrast, one of Europe's most unique and special attempts at utopia is the free community of Christiana, in Copenhagen, Denmark. Since 1971, when Danish hippies squatted in the 18th century navy fort on abandoned state property and then declared themselves immune from the laws of Denmark, Christiana has been one of the world's great experiments – and success stories – in libertarian self-governance.
Its minimal straightforward approach becomes readily apparent to all lucky visitors. Signs just inside its entrances read in English: No photography or hard drugs allowed.
In Christiana, little is asked of either its small government or the big expensive one of Denmark. Christiana is peaceful, sane and self-sustaining. And now, because it is on such valuable property less than two miles from Copenhagen's business center, the Liberal-Conservative government elected in 2001 is trying to shut it down. Will this happen?
In 1987 the Danish government recognized Christiana as a "social experiment" to be tolerated. Since 1991, its 800-or-so residents have assumed costs for water, electricity and rent to the defense ministry. They also contribute to paying for the community's own postal service, trash collection and children's nurseries.
The residential community and its tourist trade support an organic market, restaurants, bars, a newspaper and a radio station. Marijuana and hashish are by far the community's biggest trade, with estimated sales of up to $100,000 a day. Only residents of Christiana may purvey pot. Their booths line Pusher Street like a county fair bake competition.
New Harmony was everything George Rapp and Robert Owen wanted America to be – egalitarian. Christiana is everything that America once was – relatively free.
As in early libertarian Indiana, when all nonviolent consensual lifestyles were legally protected, there are only three main simple rules that the residents of Christiana live by: No theft…no violence and…be true to your word, otherwise be banished. In other Danish words – if you can't be a good neighbor, or you have a drug habit that encourages you to steal, then get the hell out!
Even the culture among the dozens of pot and hash dealers in Christiana is peaceful. Where Afghan marijuana is sold as freely as bananas, pot merchants don't go chasing each other down Pusher Street with machetes. Contrast this with Indianapolis where half of the city's homicides are directly connected to drug prohibition. Christiana is proof that free markets are much, much safer than black markets for everyone involved.
Christiana's biggest threats are Liberal-Conservatives, who wish to snuff out its alternative lifestyles and commercially develop its 84 acres of riverfront property. If this happens, freedom lovers from around the world, but especially from Denmark, will have one less spot to squat.
In any case, New Harmony and Christiana are excellent lessons in politics. Lesson one: Most socialistic utopias fail or disband on their own lack of merit. Lesson two: Libertarian utopias, such as Christiana and early America, only fail when taken over or snuffed out by people who practice intolerance or who otherwise turn their backs on the utopia's ideals.
About the Author
Attorney, screenwriter and Libertarian Party activist in Indianapolis
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