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The Republic of Keene, a nation founded on Libertarian principles, is an American city-state in the Adirondack Mountains of the former State of New York. It stretches along the Ausable River almost as far as Lake Champlain, the border of the Republic of Vermont. To the west is the survivor city of Lake Placid. Keene has a population of approximately 10,000. The capital is the main town of Keene, and the current president is Abram Howland.
Keene and the Adirondacks after the Third World War
The Adirondack Mountains are a region of rugged terrain that can not support a high population. As recently as 1900 the region could still be considered the "frontier". The Adirondack Park, established by New York State in 1892, was one of the largest protected areas in the lower 48 United States. The region was a center of winter sports; the last Winter Olympic Games before the Third World War were held in Lake Placid in 1980. The town of Keene itself was founded in 1808 not far from the peak of Mt. Marcy, New York's highest. In 1983 the town had around a thousand residents. The town of Jay, New York, about ten miles downriver from Keene, was founded in 1798 and had around two thousand residents before the war.
Plattsburgh Air Force Base, around 30 miles northeast of the town of Keene, was destroyed by a Soviet missile in 1983. Keene experienced some wind-borne radiation from the blast, which prompted some residents to leave, mainly to the northwest. As American society broke down, the relatively self-sufficient Adirondack villages enjoyed a relatively high survival rate; nevertheless, the roads and countrysides, and many of the towns themselves, grew less safe as banditry increased. The town of Jay drew some refugees from the Plattsburgh area, and competition for food and other resources led to violence in the winter of 1983-4. Lake Placid, together with Malone near the Canadian border, became the safest havens for refugees in the Adirondack region, although they too have been attacked over the years by the Lawrence Raiders and similar groups (see New York State.) Many of the original inhabitants of Keene ended up in both towns, while others adopted a more nomadic lifestyle.
Keene was certainly abandoned by 1989, while Jay supported a dwindling community until 1990. Evidence suggests that Keene was re-occupied by a small group between c. 1996 and 2001. Most of the Adirondack region reverted to trackless wilderness. Small bands of survivors lived off the land and raided the few remaining settlements. The Republic of Vermont sent its first expedition into New York in 1999, but it passed to the south of the mountains. Later expeditions in the 2000s established contact with Lake Placid and Malone and surveyed the ruins of smaller sites such as Keene.
Intellectual Underpinnings: New England Libertarianism
The origins of the Republic of Keene, however, lie not in the Adirondacks, but across the border in Vermont and New Hampshire. Surviving New Hampshirites still in contact with the Manchester provisional government had voted overwhelmingly to join Vermont in 1984. As time went on, however, a growing number of people in New Hampshire began to regret this decision and resent Vermont's control of their former state.
A new current of political thought was taking shape in the Republic at the same time. As conditions improved and Vermont moved toward becoming a modern state, some began to argue that a radical new concept of statehood was needed. Unchecked state power, it was argued, had dragged the world through three world wars, killing billions and very nearly destroying all civilization. Vermont seemed to be copying the nations of the past for its basic structure, something that seemed doomed to lead ultimately to tyranny and war.
Proponents of this school of thought began to voice their ideas in newspapers and in Vermont's relatively large university system. Among the leaders were future Keene founding fathers Abram Howland and Justin Elbourn. By the late '90s they had begun to call themselves Libertarians, named after a small-government political movement that had been on the fringe of American politics before Doomsday but had been steadily gaining momentum since the early 1970s. Elbourn, a graduate student at Keene State College in southwestern New Hampshire, founded the newsletter The Libertarian in 1996 and helped form a unified political movement.
This new Libertarianism was shaped by the environment of postwar New England. Outside Vermont and Aroostook, violence, anarchy, and poverty demonstrated that some sort of government was necessary. However, the Libertarians also saw positive qualities in the culture of the survivor villages: local control, individual agency, and self-reliance. What was needed, they argued, was a national framework where the government was secure and its authority to maintain order was not in doubt - but which also left ordinary people unfettered to pursue their own ambitions, and which had no power to devote the people's resources to pursuing large-scale state projects. They appropriated an American nationalistic slogan from the "XYZ Affair" of 1798 to describe their ideal government: "Millions for defence, but not one cent for tribute!"
Abram Howland, a refugee from Concord who moved to Keene to be closer to the movement's epicenter, wrote The Republic of Liberty in 2002 as a sort of Libertarian manifesto. The book described the Libertarians' concept of the ideal state for the postwar world, with clearly defined and limited roles. It consisted of autonomous, self-governing communities united in a national structure for security and defence. The government would largely leave its citizens alone and would pledge to use force only to defend its borders and suppress internal violence. Offensive wars - or, indeed, any entanglements in outside affairs - would be strictly forbidden. Privacy rights would be nearly absolute. Economics would be the prerogative of individual and community negotiations, not government regulation. Besides inhibiting individual liberty, regulation was believed to lead to the monolithic super-states that had precipitated the Cold War.
Laying the Groundwork
The Libertarians allied themselves with New Hampshire loyalists, who also resented "intrusion" by the Vermont government. Early activism supporting New Hampshire secession did not get very far, and by the mid-2000s leaders were discussing other options.
Beginning around 2000, a small trickle of Vermonters had ventured outside the Republic's western border to strike it out on their own. Stereotyped as recluses and malcontents, the "Pioneers", as they inevitably came to be called, in fact included a wide range of people who sought adventure or opportunity in the woods and ruins of the western wilderness. Many Pioneers naturally sympathized with Libertarian ideas. In Keene, Howland and Elbourn, and others, began to discuss building a large-scale Pioneer project to create an independent settlement based on their movement's principles.
The Republic of Liberty Project, named for Howland's book, began in 2005. Its goals were to scout out a location, gather resources, and attract potential settlers to found an independent settlement in the Adirondacks. The mountains were chosen in the hopes that their sparse population and rugged terrain would protect the settlement from attack. While some (especially the New Hampshire loyalist faction) would have preferred a location within New Hampshire's old borders, the Vermont government had too great a presence in the state and would have strongly objected to any unilateral secession there.
Ironically enough, some scouts in 2006 gave a favorable report of the Ausable River, a secluded valley that included the ruins of Keene, sharing its name with the Libertarian center in New Hampshire. The Republic of Liberty leaders loved the idea, and designated a final location in 2007. Technically, the center of the new republic would be closer to the ruins of Jay, New York, but it was settled: their new ideal nation would be called Keene.
After that, planning began in earnest. Settlers from across Vermont (largely but not entirely the New Hampshire portion) pledged to join the project and began to gather supplies. A draft constitution was written.
The Exodus: Founding the Republic
In the early spring of 2009, around 2000 people left Middlebury, Vermont to create their new republic. Upon arriving at the site designated by the scouts two years earlier, work began on initial buildings and farmsteads. On March 31, every one of the settlers gathered to vote on the Keene Compact, a constitution for the new republic whose name reflected their belief in government as a social contract. Officially, the Compact was written by the assembly, but in fact all they did was lightly amend the draft that had been written by Libertarian leaders over the previous two years.
Abram Howland and Justin Elbourn were immediately voted into political office upon the ratification of the Compact. Howland became Keene's first President, Elbourn, Secretary of State. Settlers continued to arrive in the early weeks, so that by May Vermonters were speaking of the "New Hampshire Exodus" to Keene.
The First Year
The Vermont government had been indifferent to the Republic of Liberty Project when it had first become well known, doubting its chances of success. Once the Exodus became a concrete possibility, some objected to it. Essex County, New York, had been designated by the Republic of Vermont as a "potential territory" for future expansion. In April 2009, several leaders from Vermont traveled to Keene to meet with leaders and assess whether they were serious in their desire for independence. After a report in late April, President Jim Douglas decided that stopping the settlers would not be worth it, but did not extend formal recognition to Keene.
The Keene settlers repelled a raid by nomads in their first month, and have had to defend their settlement numerous times since. The valley they settled had been outside Vermont's zone, but it had for some time been part of the sphere of influence of the survivor community at Lake Placid, which had friendly ties with Vermont. Lake Placid and Keene fought briefly in July 2009 before Lake Placid agreed not to disturb the settlement. A formal border has yet to be drawn.
A steady trickle of Pioneers has joined the new Republic since its founding. From the capital, it now stretches several miles up and down the Ausable. Several smaller villages have been built, but Keene itself remains the only sizable town. Settlement patterns vary from villages anchoring clusters of fields, to isolated single farmsteads.
On March 31, 2010, Keene celebrated its first Compact Day with a large gathering at the capital. Food, cider, music, and fireworks mixed with speeches and political discussions as the citizens of the new country took time to reflect on their first year surviving in the wilderness. The Sentinel of St. John's, Newfoundland has a news feature on the celebrations and their wider context.
Better relations and new challenges
After the turbulence of the first year, Keene has sought better relations with its neighbors. A major diplomatic breakthrough occurred in September 2010 when Vermont formally recognized its independence as part of a general policy of outreach to village-states throughout New York. Some people have begun talking about creating a cooperative organization to bind all of the major New York settlements together. However, the great tension between Keene and its nearest neighbor, Lake Placid, make these ideas unrealistic in the short term.
Early in 2011, the events of "American Spring" roused the whole Libertarian community in the region. Political demonstrations were held supporting Libertarian principles in Vermont and elsewhere in New England. The protests used lots of American imagery but were largely against the idea of re-creating the Union: it was seen as too big and too controling. These demonstrations, which Keene supported and which its foundation helped fund, made some of its neighbors nervous. Vermont stopped short on cracking down but did criticize the demonstrators, saying they were largely under "foreign" influence.
[Insert pumpkin riot joke here]
Military and Law Enforcement
Keene's military is based on the old Swiss army, where the entire nation, not just a portion of it, comprises the armed forces. In times of war, upon enactment by the President, the whole nation will become active. Every man, woman, and child capable of holding a weapon is given one by the state to protect their property from occasional violence and to protect national borders.
Upon the founding of Keene, a formal vote was put forward as to whether or not a national police force should be created. While most believed that in order to create a truly libertarian state there should not be a formal police force, some dissented and an agreement was reached. This agreement created Militia Law, a semi-military force of volunteers whose sole duty is to protect the inner workings of Keene and its citizens. Every few months a new Militia is put together, and the old one is relieved of its duties. To date, the Militia has worked out so well that volunteers have had to be turned away.
The government of Keene is bound by the Keene Compact, a constitution whose format and wording is based on the Constitution of the United States of America, though it has been revised to conform with the Libertarian principles of its founders, largely derived from Howland's book. The Constitution of Keene states that the Keene government's sole purpose is to, "protect and serve, without interference and never for its own gain," an central clause in the document. It binds the government to an ideal held strongly by the founders.
Since its inception, the nation has been in debates as how to form the branches of their national government, or whether they should forego the branches and instead move towards a regionalized government, where each community would act autonomously of the others but come together for national debates. Currently, the movement towards a regionalized government is swaying more voters, though it still may take some time for it to come to fruition. Most citizens are more concerned about foreign enemies and protecting their borders. They believe that once the outside is protected, the inside can take form.
Cities and Townships
Many of the new villages within the borders of Keene are being built on the ruins of old ones, though it will be some time before all the cities and towns within the borders will be built again. As of now, the existing towns are:
- Upper Jay
- Lower Jay
- Ausable Lake
Keene's flag is derived from the symbol for the Republic of Liberty project, a white star on a black square. The minimalist color scheme represents the minimal role government is hoped to play; white, associated with New Hampshire's White Mountains, is also associated with New Hampshirite secessionism (as opposed to Vermont's Green Mountains). The individual five-pointed star, a widely recognized symbol of liberty, represents the freedom and power of the individual.
Relations With Other Nations
After a national vote, Keene has decided that it is in its best interest to send ambassadors to other nations and to attempt to convince other nations to accept Keene's legitimacy. Based on the principle of freedom of movement and individual autonomy, Keene's constitution welcomes immigrants from all lands. As a temporary measure, though, immigration has been limited by quotas since August 2009 in order to allow the residents time to start their lives anew without the difficulty of adjusting to diverse newcomers. The quotas, however, have been large enough that Keene's first year saw its population multiply.
Keene has a subsistence economy based on agriculture and hunting. These basic activities then support lumbering, mining, and small-scale manufacture. Some citizens have established small businesses in the capital to provide essential services.
Keene is also seeking connections to larger economic circles, such as Manchester, Vermont, the largest city in that region.
Keene's culture revolves around agrarian practices, but is also influenced by semi-urban themes. Keene has established two centers of arts, The Howland Center for Progressive Art and the Placid Forum, an outdoor stage for music and performances. Keene has also attempted to set up a television station, expected to begin broadcasting sometime in 2010. The radio has been an important aspect to life in Keene, as most citizens own only a radio. The nation is also one of the first to completely adopt a Libertarian ideology, something citizens believe to be one of the greatest political experiments since the formation of the United States.
The citizens of Keene have a diverse taste in music, but one form has been particularly popular. Progressive-folk music has been prevalent among the youth of the country, especially in the capital. Bands such as New Granite, XODUS, Mobstate, and Francia, have begun playing regional shows.
Most citizens of Keene are home-schooled, and a very small percentage of students travel to other private homes in order to be educated. This system has been praised by most of the nation, and test scores have shown that students are doing better than they were pre-1983. Public schools have been mentioned in government only a handful of times, and each time it has been dismissed as a major issue that plagued the United States pre-1983.
University of Keene
One privately owned university, the University of Keene, has been set up in the capital, Keene City. It is small in comparison to other universities, comprising a single building, but many courses are taught outdoors, weather permitting. Presently, there are nearly 100 students in 10 distinct majors attending the University.
The population of Keene is 9750 and is steadily increasing, although citizens are cautious of allowing unhindered immigration. The racial makeup of the town is 98.68% White, 0.09% African American, 0.19% Native American, 0.47% Asian, 0.09% from other races, and 0.47% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race are 0.38% of the population.
An estimated 63% of Keene's citizens are former New Hampshire or Vermont residents, while the other remaining 37% is made up of locals who resided in the Adirondacks before the exodus.
Keene has been remarkably successful in establishing a new republic based on Libertarian principles in what had been lawless wilderness. It has led observers to suggest that the time is ripe for re-settlement to begin in other parts of North America. However, the effort has not been without its setbacks.
Keene's settlers knew when they started that they would have to face a pioneer lifestyle and all the poverty and hardship that implied. Outside the capital, citizens live in essentially nineteenth-century conditions. Modern equipment must be purchased in Vermont. For this, Keene relies heavily on the Republic of Liberty Project, which still exists as an NGO, and whose purpose is now collecting donations to support the settlements.
The realities of life in the mountains has led the citizens to adjust and adapt the Libertarian ideals on which Keene was founded. The immigration quota, imposed for security reasons, is one example of this. Another example is the local economies that have cropped up in some of the villages and townships, some of which have become almost communal. This sharing of resources has come under heavy criticism in the capital. Its defenders say that local resource-sharing is advocated in some strains of Libertarianism, and that they entered into these sharing arrangements as private citizens, not as subjects of government redistribution. And anyway, the villagers contend that sharing resources was the only way many of them survived the winter of 2009-10. Finally, some of the more pacifist-minded Libertarians condemned Keene's "war" with Lake Placid, contending that it was a war of aggression and forbidden under the Compact. In reality, the war had no clear aggressor, and the fighting stemmed from a breakdown of negotiations.
Keene also faces diplomatic challenges. Its citizens long to be recognized as an independent republic on par with any other in the world. After all, they as free individuals in a state of nature entered into a social compact to chart their own future free of outside interference. In September 2010 Keene achieved its top diplomatic goal: recognition from Vermont's Douglas administration. It is hoped that Vermont's gesture will help Keene win the same respect from the other regional powers, Canada and Aroostook. Keene's relations with surrounding survivor communities, especially Lake Placid, remain strained. Keene's only real friend in the region is the town of Malone, which has exchanged diplomats with Keene and signed a pact of friendship in October 2009.